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Unilever brands known as sustainable are growing 30% faster than others

One in three consumers choose brands based on sustainability: Unilever study

By Louis Gore-Langton , 17-Jan-2017
Last updated on 17-Jan-2017 at 13:08 GMT2017-01-17T13:08:31Z

Consumers choose products based on sustainable practice, particularly in emerging markets. © iStock/Petmal
Consumers choose products based on sustainable practice, particularly in emerging markets. © iStock/Petmal

A new report by industry giant Unilever shows that consumers' belief in the social or environmental welfare of brands hugely affects their purchasing decisions.

Unilever is the third largest consumer goods company in the world and owner of brands such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Hellman’s mayonnaise.

Sustainable Living Brands

Unilever has taken strong commitments to sustainable practices, including halving the environmental footprint of production and using only palm oil certified as sustainable.

In a study of 20,000 adults across five countries - UK, US, Brazil, Turkey and India - a strong correlation was found between respondent’s reported opinions on sustainability and their actual buying habits.

21% responded saying they would choose a brand based on the belief that it was produced sustainably.

Unilever also claims the profitability of sustainable practice is proven by its own record; of its hundreds of brands, those boasting sustainable practice are growing 30% faster than the rest of the business. 

Its ‘sustainable living brands’ of which its five biggest brands (Knorr, Hellman’s, Dove, Dirt is Good and Lipton) are a part, contribute to ethical social funds.

For example, “Knorr has donated 2 million nutritious school meals through our partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) in more than 45 countries” a spokesperson said.

Based on a Europanel report of last year, the growth of sustainable brands would represent a potential €966bn market, currently unexploited.

However, there is little proof currently that the increased success of the major Sustainable Living Brands is due to their ethical status. How a consumer would know they are buying an ethical product when they buy Knorr, for instance, is unclear.

The sustainability market is currently estimated to be worth a total €2.5 trillion, according to Unilever, although no source was given for these statistics. 

Emerging markets

Interestingly, respondents in emerging economies showed the greatest drive to buy sustainable goods. “While 53% of shoppers in the UK and 78% in the US say they feel better when they buy products that are sustainably produced, that number rises to 88% in India and 85% in both Brazil and Turkey” the report said.

In markets where categories like affordability and quality may be more important, purpose driven purchases for sustainability are higher in popularity.

Unilever’s report puts this down to countries with emerging economies being privy to the real effects of unsustainable practices. Pollution, poverty and water shortages are all well-known experiences in many of these nations. 

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