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Consumers and Sustainability: Food and Beverage, Personal Care, Household Cleaners, and OTC Medications and Supplements


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

This report (also available in a four-part series format) was jointly published by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts. The CPG markets covered are food and beverage, personal care, 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

All of these zones apply the food and beverage market, which is central to consumer perceptions of sustainability. In fact, many of the attributes that generally describe quality eating experiences, particularly freshness, also resonate as sustainable in the food and beverage category.

Within the personal care market, “natural” remains a meaningful reference point for a variety of personal care products, even if the term has lost significance in other packaged good categories. Moreover, attributes such as “chemical free” and “not tested on animals” are important considerations for purchasers of conventional and sustainable personal care products alike.

Household cleaning products with a sustainable side have begun to enter the American mainstream. Formerly, the act of cleaning was a form of “germ warfare,” and entailed a combative relationship between consumers and their environment. Recently, however, more consumers talk about the idea of working with nature, not against it, to naturally restore balance to their home environment.

Increased media coverage of tainted products 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 forms. Thus, 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.

Read an excerpt from this report below.

Report 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 various Packaged Facts market-specific studies, a Packaged Facts February 2009 online consumer poll, and Experian Simmons national consumer surveys fielded November 2008 through 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


A Consumer-based Model of Responsibility

What, then, motivates some consumers to spend extra money on sustainable products or to focus their attention on this particular area?  When consumers talk about what’s important to their personal lives and the concerns facing society, the word “responsibility” and similar phrases like “do the right thing” come up time and again to express the underlying values that guide their views about sustainability. While knowledge about the environmental, economic, or social benefits of a product or service is crucial to the topic of sustainability, the notion of responsibility crystallizes why it matters.

As a value-laden ideal, responsibility provides a more meaningful call to action for all those in society - consumers, businesses, and governments alike - to participate in the greater good.  For consumers, doing the right thing is not just doing the green thing; responsibility casts a net over a variety of economic, environmental, and social choices. Individuals come to participate in sustainability through different pathways, in that doing the right thing may mean something different to each individual. Thus, sustainability is reflected in a myriad of behaviors, from purchases and non-purchases, to voting and volunteerism. 

Additionally, the notion of responsibility underscores the idea of connectedness, addressing consumer beliefs that the right thing in one area has effects in other areas. For a behavior to be truly responsible, it should not cause great detriment in another area. In other words, environmental responsibility necessitates social responsibility, and should influence how one evaluates whether an activity or product is economically responsible.  Consumers concede that doing the right thing, although a wonderfully simple concept to grasp, becomes complex...

In the News


Consumers and Sustainability: A Market Update for CPG Goods


New York, September 22, 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 four reports in the just-completed series on Consumers and Sustainability are Food and Beverage, Personal Care, 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” 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. 

Thus, as consumers become more educated about the environmental, social, and economic implications of food and beverage choices, their health and wellness motivations dovetail with larger societal concerns.  A close relationship develops between sustainability and emerging definitions of food quality, as consumers use sustainable attributes to infer food quality, and food quality to infer sustainability.

Within the personal care market, personal health and wellness concerns remain the most important motivation for purchasing sustainable products. Nonetheless, “natural” remains a meaningful reference point for a variety of sustainable personal care products, even if the term has lost significance in other packaged good categories.

Household cleaning products with a sustainable side have only recently begun to enter the American mainstream.  Formerly, the act of cleaning was a form of “germ warfare,” and entailed a combative relationship between consumers and their environment.  Recently, however, more consumers talk about the idea of working with nature, not against it, to naturally restore balance to their home environment.  At the same time, increased media coverage of tainted medications due to human error and globalized production has generated rising consumer awareness about sustainability issues surrounding over-the-counter medications and supplements.

In response to the current economic downturn, many consumers have modified their purchasing behaviors in relation to sustainable products.  Nonetheless, Consumers and Sustainability argues that tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely for product categories that sustainability consumers view as essential to their quality of life, with food at the top of that list, and also including personal care and household cleaners.   Because over-the-counter medications are not considered quite as essential, consumer cutbacks are more likely to hurt sales of higher-priced sustainable versions of OTC meds and supplements.

The Consumers and Sustainability four-report 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.  In addition, Packaged Facts provides a market update based on various Packaged Facts market-specific studies, a Packaged Facts February 2009 online consumer poll, and Experian Simmons national consumer surveys fielded November 2008 through June 2009.

About Packaged Facts - Packaged Facts, a division of Market Research Group, 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 and 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
  • Foods, Beverages and the Sustainability Consumer
    • The Food Market and the Zones of Sustainability
    • Personal Benefit Zone of Sustainability
    • Environmental Zone of Sustainability
      • Organic
      • Local
      • Gardening
      • Vegetarianism
    • Social Zone of Sustainability
      • Local Satisfies Desire for Connection
      • Humane Treatment of Animals
    • Economic Zone of Sustainability
      • Buying Local
      • Fair Trade
    • Product Adoption Patterns
    • Freshness is Foremost
    • Purchase Criteria
      • Table Purchase Criteria for Sustainable Foods and Beverages
    • Packaging Issues
      • Table Dos and Don'ts for Sustainable Food and Beverage Packaging
    • Quantitative Findings on Sustainable Food and Beverage Purchases
      • Table General Food and Beverage Categories and Corresponding Sustainable Versions
    • Summary and Key Insights
    • Tenets for Package Communications
  • Personal Care and the Sustainability Consumer
    • The Personal Care Market and the Zones of Sustainability
    • Personal Benefit Zone of Sustainability
    • Environmental Zone of Sustainability
      • Recognizable Ingredients
      • Organic
      • Wild-Grown, Hand-Harvested
      • Chemical-Free
    • Social Zone of Sustainability
      • Humane Treatment of Animals
    • Motivations and Pathway(s) for Adoption
    • Attributes of Sustainable Personal Care
      • Natural is the Foremost Attribute of Sustainable Personal Care
    • Hierarchy of Specific Attributes
      • Table Chemicals Consumers Avoid in Sustainable Personal Care Products
    • Relevant Personal Care Certification(s)
      • Cruelty Free
      • Organic
      • Other Certifications
    • Personal Care Product Packaging
      • Table Packaging Do's and Don'ts for Sustainable Personal Care Products
    • Purchase Criteria
      • Table Purchase Criteria for Sustainable Personal Care Products
      • A Note about Sustainable Cosmetics
    • Quantitative Findings on Sustainable Personal Care Purchasing
      • Table General Personal Care Product Categories and Corresponding Sustainable Versions
    • Summary and Key Insights
    • Tenets for Package Communications
  • Household Cleaners and the Sustainability Consumer
    • The Household Cleaners Market and the Zones of Sustainability
    • Personal Benefit Zone of Sustainability
    • Environmental Zone of Sustainability
      • Safety
      • Sensory Experience
      • Homemade Cleaners
    • Social Zone of Sustainability
      • Humane Treatment of Animals
    • Motivations and Pathway(s) for Adoption
    • Attributes of Sustainable Household Cleaners
      • Natural Is the Foremost Attribute of Sustainable Household Cleaners
    • Relevant Household Cleaner Certifications
      • Cruelty Free
    • Packaging for Household Cleaners
      • Table Packaging Do's and Don'ts for Sustainable Household Cleaners
    • Purchase Criteria
      • Table Purchase Criteria for Sustainable Household Cleaners
    • Quantitative Findings on Sustainable Household Cleaners
      • Table General Household Cleaner Categories and Corresponding Sustainable Versions
    • Summary and Key Insights
    • Tenets for Package Communications
  • 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
    • Summary and Key Insights
    • Tenets for Package Communications
  • Market Update
    • Responses to Economic Downturn
    • Sustainability Convictions Largely Unchanged by Recession
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Opinions, Winter 2007/08 Through Spring 2009
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Behaviors, Winter 2007/08 Through Spring 2009
      • Table Percent of Adults Agreeing With Selected Psychographic Statements About the Environment, Spring 2009 (U.S. adults)
    • Sustainable Products Move Into Mainstream
    • Market Update: Food and Beverage
      • Table Patterns for Agreement With Statement, "When Shopping for Food, I Especially Look for Organic or Natural Foods," Winter 2007/08 Through Spring 2009
      • Table Percent Agreeing with Selected Psychographic Statements on Natural or Organic Foods, February 2009 (U.S. adults)
    • Projected Market Growth for Natural and Organic Foods
      • Table Projected U.S. Retail Dollar Sales of Natural and Organic Foods and Beverages, 2009-2013
    • Local and Bulk Foods: Beyond the CPG Aisles
    • Market Update: Personal Care
      • Product Efficacy vs. Product Safety
        • Table Percent Agreeing with Selected Psychographic Statements on Natural/Organic Health and Beauty Care Products, February 2009 (U.S. adults)
      • Only a Minority Are Inclined to Cut Back
    • Market Growth for Natural Personal Care Remains an Upward Arc
      • Table Projected U.S. Retail Dollar Sales of Natural Personal Care Products, 2008-2014 (dollars in millions)
    • Market Update: Household Cleaners
    • Market Update: OTC Medications and Supplements

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