Is this the year brands make us feel good about doing good?

It’s that time of year when people try to motivate themselves to achieve big goals through New Year’s resolutions. BUT around 70% will have failed by now! Primarily because behaviour change is hard! The most successful resolutions are easy and get ingrained in daily routines or have some financial incentives to make them stick. However, many are centred on health and this is hard to change! That’s why the trend to do something on a ‘small scale’ has become so popular. 3.1 million people have signed up to be ‘Dry in January’. Veganuary is booming at +110,000 sign-ups vs. last year and ‘Plastic-Free Tuesday’ is also gaining momentum. As consumers do their little bit to feel good there’s growing demand for brands to do their bit – particularly on health consciousness and sustainability. On top of mounting pressure from activists and Government, we feel brands will start taking a serious stand on creating a sustainable future. Here we assess the 3 big trends and the companies taking the lead.

Source: ABA Xmas Survey, Dec 2018, base: 3,500 UK consumers

Thinking outside the packaging box

There’s growing consumer unease around excessive and non-recyclable packaging - some turning to social to shame brands. M&S’ cauliflower steak caused social uproar when its high price and superfluous packaging jarred with this growing sentiment. Amazon recently got unwanted airtime when it sent 26ft of packaging to accompany a single calendar!

While the number of independent zero packaging stores and pureplay grow, big brands have been slow to follow. The boldest move so far has come from Iceland, which has pledged to go completely plastic-free on all OL goods by 2023. Since then McDonalds has followed suit – vowing to make all its packaging recycled or sustainable by 2025. Last month Pret’s CEO made an honest stand by openly asking customers for advice on how to tackle the huge 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups disposed of in the UK each year - a decent financial incentive offered and other brands like Costa quickly following. Pret is also trialling the use of corn-based PLA cutlery, which is eco-friendly and biodegradable. Lush is bucking the traditional norm in beauty (where excessive packaging is often used to enhance products) through its ‘naked takeover’ – extending its range of plastic-free products to include shampoo and shower gel. P&G brand Head & Shoulders has just been awarded a United Nations Momentum for Change Award. It helped to launch the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle, made with 25% recycled beach plastic, with thousands of volunteers lending a hand to collect plastic waste which it hopes will inspire others.

Meat-free sustainability on the menu

The rising popularity of Veganuary may be partly due to people wanting to cut the high carbon footprint that meat leaves, but consumers also attach significant health benefits to cutting out meat - so much so that a huge 91% of Brits are either going Vegan or adopting a Flexitarian diet this month! Going Vegan no longer feels out of reach as food chains, many for the first time, offer vegan options (including Pret, Zizi’s, Harvester, Leon, Giraffe, Pizza Express, Wagamamas and Pizza Hut.) This January also saw Tesco launch a completely Vegan range called Wicked Kitchen. M&S and Sainsbury’s are also beefing up their propositions here (or should that be Quorning up?).

Is fashion finally catching up…?

This year started with a significant step forward in fashion with 64 companies (including Inditex, Kering, ASOS) announcing their commitment to increasing sustainable design. After oil, the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world. So far efforts have been limited, but ASOS has made the bold move of launching a recycled denim range and an Eco edit of ethically-conscious brands. H&M is also upping its range of ‘eco gear’by expanding into activewear. Beyond this the big players could do a lot more to create collaborations with smaller, independent eco-centred brands like Tino, Armedangels, Mud jeans, Reformation etc. – by supporting clothing subscription services such as Kleiderei, Lena or Le Tote.

We think 2018 is the time for all brands to communicate to their customers their dedication to creating a sustainable future. It's a message that is likely to fall on very fertile ground.