Fiona Field on why shoppers face hard choices in getting the balance between convenience and responsible purchasing
Gen Z and Millennials are said to be the driving force in efforts to ensure brands change their practices to become more ethical, responsible and sustainable. But is this generation really committed to the cause? Will the so-called conscious consumer be prepared to walk a bit further, wait longer and lose a bit of the convenience that they have come to rely on to keep true to their principles?
After Covid-19 and the energy crisis, there has been more focus on how industry and brands will react to a more mindful consumer. But unlike our predecessors who had to queue and wait in line for everything, life today has become incredibly convenient. It is an audience that grew up with brands like Deliveroo, Tinder, Revolut and many tech platforms designed to soften life’s hassles.
Technology is the enabler and both Gen Z and Millennials are used to getting what they want, when they want. They have come to expect certain standards. Today, the generation that grew up with fast fashion and the growth of consumerism face more difficult choices. While their sustainable intentions may be pure, it poses a challenge when their ambition conflicts with a desire for convenience.
Reducing food waste: Netherlands-based One Third is a technology company offering a food waste prevention system that instantly predicts the shelf life for fresh fruit and vegetables in less than one second and connects with all stages of the supply chain, from growers to distributors to retailers. One Third uses artificial intelligence to provide optimised routing, reduced costs and less food loss and waste to within one day of accuracy.
The level of instant gratification is somewhat at odds with the challenges facing organisations seeking to effect change in a sustainable way. Take for example the world of online shopping where consumer impatience to receive the goods can impact the need for improved delivery times, which, as a result, can lead to increased fuel consumption, carbon emissions and packaging.
Despite the energy crisis and a growing need to be more conscious, the evidence was nowhere to be seen in the run-up to Christmas, despite the economic barriers. Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that both clothing and footwear grew by over 19 per cent year on year in November, as branded shopping days continued to drive consumers to a frenzy.
We saw the introduction of Amazon’s Prime day alongside Cyber Monday and Black Friday, which has now been extended from a single day to several weeks. One must question if the conscious consumer is talking a good game or if they are truly committed to being more mindful about materialism and will shop in a way that will align with their stated values around sustainability.
The challenge of consumerism is not unique to fashion. The UN reports that globally more than one third of food is lost or wasted. It also means that the many resources that are used to bring the food to the table are also wasted. But if pressure creates diamonds, then the current challenges coupled with the energy crisis present an opportunity to urge more transformation in all sectors.
Retailers are constantly evolving. In response to the energy crisis, they removed open fridges to save on energy costs and remain competitive. But despite these modifications, there are still a host of practices which they will find difficult to move away from. Walk into any food retailer and you are confronted with an array of value offers which consumers have come to expect.
Will the retail sector be brave enough to get rid of three-for-two products in favour of more purpose-driven offers? Achieving sustainability through enhanced use of technology was a hot topic at the recent CES in Las Vegas, such as the example presented by One Third. How often have you picked up an avocado in a supermarket to check its freshness?
One Third is a food waste prevention system that instantly predicts a product’s shelf live in less than one second and can connect with all stages of the supply chain. John Deere rolled out a robotic fertiliser system and self-driving tractor equipped with cameras and AI sensor to mitigate pollution and crop contamination, by only applying pesticides where cameras detected weeds.
These cutting-edge technologies will help reduce operating costs and the demand for products that impact the environment. As we grapple with these new realities, planning for change and education will be fundamental in how sustainable targets are met to cater for the rise of the conscious consumer, but it is evident that advances in technology will remain at the heart of driving change.
Everyone needs to play their part: brands, consumers and every element of the supply chain, all of which requires significant planning. It is unfair to place the burden on consumers alone as they have a conflicting need for convenience and value. Consumer intentions are positive, which is a good starting position. Those who act now and plan for this seismic shift stand to reap the rewards.
Fiona Field is managing director at OMD