Clearer marketing can open £800bn windfall for ‘sustainable’ brands, says Unilever

Brands that move to promote the sustainability credentials of their products more clearly can tap into a £817bn market opportunity catalysed by a growth in awareness amongst consumers, new research from Unilever has suggested.

The global consumer goods firm survey 20,000 adults across the UK, India, Brazil, Turkey and the US and found that 20% would purchase from brands that could display the sustainability aspects of their products through clearer marketing and packaging. With Unilever claiming that the market size for sustainable goods currently sits at £2.1trn, this creates a £817bn opportunity for brands who can communicate more coherently with consumers.

Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed said: “Brand must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.

“To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability.”

While 33% of the respondents would purchase a product because they believe it is benefiting society and the environment, the ‘feel-good’ factor for consumers that buy sustainable products varies from country to country. In the UK, 53% of shoppers claim to feel good when purchasing sustainably, however this figure rises to 85-88% in the emerging markets of India, Brazil and Turkey.

Unilever suggested that the higher levels of sustainable purchasing in these countries could be because consumers are more exposed to the impacts of unsustainable product development. But with 78% of US respondents revealing that they like to shop for sustainable products, it becomes apparent that UK markets are lagging.

Product potential

Unilever brands such as Dove, Knorr and Ben & Jerry’s have all benefitted from driving sustainability as a brand purpose, and form part of Unilever’s Sustainable Living division. These brands – which aim to integrate sustainability into the group’s ‘purpose’ and ‘products’ – are now developing 30% faster than the rest of the business, as well as contributing to around half of Unilever’s growth last year.

One of the more successful platforms that Unilever has introduced to aid consumers with the concept of sustainable living is the Unilever Foundry initiative. The Foundry has recently established a new global crowdsourcing community to find new ways to tackle global sustainability problems.

The benefits of delivering sustainable products are being felt in other major retail brands. The world’s biggest furniture retailer Ikea has almost trebled the sales from its ‘sustainable life at home’ products.

For 2016, Ikea’s sustainable product sales reached €1,802m – compared with €641m in 2013 – taking the company 70% of the way to its target of achieving a four-fold increase in sales by 2020.

Matt Mace

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