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Consumers and Sustainability: Over-the-Counter Medications and Supplements


Attention: There is an updated edition available for this report.

This report forms part of a series jointly published by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts on Consumers and Sustainability. This four-part series covers in separate reports the markets for foods and beverages, personal care products, household cleaners, and OTC medications and supplements.

Sustainability means different things to different people. Asked to identify what the term means to them, consumers most frequently respond “the ability to last over time” (76%) and “the ability to support oneself.” Sustainability is also strongly associated with environmental concerns, whereby consumers are being challenged to develop and express an “eco-consciousness” in their daily habits and purchases. Thus, nearly half of consumers associate sustainability with conserving natural resources and with recycling.

But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the term. “Green” falls short as a description for the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe are important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large. Adoption of sustainable products mirrors the health and wellness progression that The Hartman Group has previously reported, in which consumers first consider the impacts of things in the body, followed by on the body, and finally around the body.

As consumers become more educated about the environmental, social, and economic implications of their shopping habits, their health and wellness motivations dovetail with societal concerns, such that four zones of sustainability become relevant to purchasing choices:

  • The Personal Benefit Zone
  • The Environmental Zone
  • The Social Zone
  • The Economic Zone

Increased media coverage regarding tainted medications due to human error and globalized production has generated rising consumer awareness about the lifecycle and potential impacts of over-the-counter (OTC) medications and supplements. Our research finds that consumers consider social and environmental zones to be salient to their evaluation and purchase of sustainable versions of OTC medications and supplements. Although OTC meds and supplements are most common in pill form, consumers consider many of the same sustainability issues and personal concerns to be relevant for mass-produced topical ointments.

Read an excerpt from this report below.

Series Methodology

This report series was jointly produced by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts, and is based on The Hartman Group’s 2009 multi-category study, Sustainability: The Rise of Consumer Responsibility. In addition, Packaged Facts provides an update of consumer attitudes and spending based on a proprietary online poll conducted in February 2009 and on Experian Simmons surveys fielded from November 2008 to June 2009.

The Hartman Group Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

This report draws primarily on an online survey of 1,856 U.S. adults conducted in September 2008 by The Hartman Group to understand consumer attitudes and behaviors related to sustainability. The sample was drawn from a panel of adult U.S. consumers with Internet access, and was designed to provide good representation of the U.S. population according to geographic area, age, gender, race and income. The Hartman Group also conducted qualitative research on sustainability in three markets (Seattle, Dallas, and Columbus) during August 2008, using consumer ethnography with fifty consumers as the cornerstone of qualitative research. Ethnographic interviews included one-on-one conversations at an individual’s home or at a specific retail setting, as well as group interviews also at consumers’ homes. These engagements garnered more than 100 hours of in-depth, revelatory consumer discussion.


Market Insights: A Selection From The Report


Responses to Economic Downturn

In its introduction to Sustainability: The Rise of Consumer Responsibility, The Hartman Group noted that even the “best intentioned, most committed” sustainability consumers will modify their behavior in response to changing financial conditions. The Hartman Group anticipated that any tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely to be made in product categories that sustainability consumers view as essential to their quality of life, including food, personal care, and household cleaners. Over-the-counter medications and supplements, however, are not considered quite as important or essential as those categories. Consumer cutbacks, therefore, are more to hurt sales of higher-priced sustainable versions of OTC meds.

Even with the advent of a major economic recession, nonetheless, consumer attitudes and convictions related to sustainability remained largely unchanged. Thus, no slackening of sustainability attitudes is evident between Experian Simmons’ winter 2007/08 national consumer study (fielded from late October 2007 through late March 2008) and spring 2009 study (fielded from November 2008 through June 2009).

As shown in Table 5-1,

  • The combined percentage of adults who agree either a lot or a little that packaging for products should be recycled increased (from 64% in 2007/08 to 66% in 2009), while the minority percentage who disagree drew closer to zero (from 5% to 3%).

  • The combined percentage who agree a little or a lot that people have a duty to recycle also edged up (from 55% to...
In the News


OTC Medications and Sustainability: A Market Update

New York, October 13, 2009 — Market research firms Packaged Facts and The Hartman Group have joined forces to publish a series of reports tracking current consumer attitudes and shopping behaviors in relation to “sustainable” consumer packaged goods.

The final volume in the four-part series, Consumers and Sustainability: OTC Medications and Supplements, reports thatincreased media coverage of tainted medications due to human error and globalized production has increased consumer awareness of the potential negative impacts of over-the-counter (OTC) medications and supplements, whether in pill or other formats.
Therefore, according to Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts, “about half of the over-the-counter medicine and supplement products in the U.S. market now feature some type of sustainability claim, whether based on manufacturing practices, product formulation, or packaging.” 

Sustainability means different things to different people. Asked to identify what the term means to them, consumers most frequently respond “the ability to last over time” and “the ability to support oneself.” Sustainability is also strongly associated with environmental concerns, whereby consumers are being challenged to develop and express an “eco-consciousness” in their daily habits and purchases.  But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the frame of reference; these older terms fail to acknowledge the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe to be important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large. 

According to Consumers and Sustainability: OTC Medications and Supplements, adoption of sustainable products often mirrors the health and wellness progression that The Hartman Group has previously reported, in which consumers first consider the impacts of things in the body, followed by on the body, and finally around the body. 

Many consumers have, of course, modified their purchasing of sustainable products in response to the current economic downturn.  While tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely for product categories viewed as essential to one’s quality of life—with food at the top of that list—OTC medications are not necessarily assigned that level of importance.  Therefore, consumer cutbacks are likely to hurt sales of higher-priced sustainable versions of OTC medications and supplements.

The Consumers and Sustainability series draws on an online survey of 1,856 U.S. adults consumers conducted in September 2008 by The Hartman Group, as well as qualitative research on sustainability in three markets (Seattle, Dallas, and Columbus) during August 2008.  Packaged Facts provides a market update based on Experian Simmons national consumer surveys fielded November 2008 through June 2009.  In addition to OTC Medications and Supplements, the consumer markets covered by the Consumers and Sustainability series are Food and Beverage, Personal Care, and Household Cleaners.

About Packaged Facts - Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, publishes market intelligence on a wide range of consumer market topics, including consumer goods and retailing, foods and beverages, demographics, pet products and services, and financial products.  Packaged Facts also offers a full range of custom research services. 

About The Hartman Group - The Hartman Group, located in Bellevue, Washington, blends leading-edge customized research and consulting to understand the subtle complexities of consumer behavior. Since 1989, Hartman Group has been listening loudly to the underlying motivations and behaviors that move the needle for our clients.

  • Methodology
    • A Joint Publication of The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts
    • The Hartman Group Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
    • About The Hartman Group, Inc.
    • About Packaged Facts
  • Sustainability & the American Consumer
    • Establishing a Definition of Sustainability
    • Sustainability Concerns and Purchasing Decisions
    • A Consumer-based Model of Responsibility
    • Experiential Triggers
    • Informational Triggers
    • The World of Sustainability: Core to Periphery
    • Motivations and Barriers to Purchase
      • Convenience
      • Price
      • Expert Opinion
      • Experience
      • Knowledge
        • Table Motivations and Barriers for Sustainable Purchases
  • OTC Medicines & Supplements and the Sustainability Consumer
    • The OTC Market and the Zones of Sustainability
    • Personal Benefit Zone of Sustainability
    • Environmental Zone of Sustainability
      • Safety and Waste Disposal
      • Consumer and Employee Safety
      • Humane Treatment of Animals
    • Motivations and Pathway(s) for Adoption
    • Attributes of Sustainable OTC Medications and Supplements
      • Natural and Safe Are the Foremost Attributes of Sustainable OTC Meds and Supplements
    • Hierarchy of Specific Attributes
    • Relevant OTC Medication and Supplement Certification(s)
      • Federal Drug Administration
      • Cruelty Free
      • Organic
    • OTC Medication and Supplement Packaging
      • Table Packaging Do's and Don'ts for Sustainable OTC Meds and Supplements
    • Purchase Criteria
      • Table Purchase Criteria for Sustainable OTC Meds and Supplements
    • Quantitative Findings on Sustainable OTC Meds & Supplements
      • Table General OTC Health Care Products Category and Corresponding Sustainable Versions General Product Category Corresponding Sustainable Product Categories
  • Summary and Key Insights
    • Issues and Concerns Surrounding OTC Meds and Supplements
    • Tenets for Package Communications
  • Market Update
    • Responses to Economic Downturn
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Opinions
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Behaviors
    • Sustainable Products Move Into Mainstream
      • Table Percent of Adults Agreeing With Selected Psychographic Statements About the Environment, 2009 (U.S. adults)
      • Table Percent of OTC Medicine and Supplement Products Marketed With Natural/Organic or Negative Content Claims, 2005 vs. 2009(P)

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