In the era of Covid-19, sustainability isn’t the only concern in packaging. Safety has also led shoppers to consume a greater number of single-use and packaged items. So how do shoppers feel about sustainability as the second wave approaches? The Grocer surveyed over 1,000 UK adults in partnership with Harris Interactive to find out the latest attitudes.

1. Environmentally-friendly packaging remains a priority

The majority of shoppers say sustainable packaging remains a key issue for them. In fact, only 23% said it was not that important, or not important at all. The issue took on an even greater level of importance among certain demographics. A sizeable 36% of 18 to 34-year-olds said sustainable packaging was very important to them, for example, compared to 26% of those in the 55-plus age groups. In terms of regions, the capital emerged as the most eco-friendly – with 38% of those in Greater London describing sustainable packaging as very important to them. That figure rose even further to 40% in inner London.

2. Sustainability concerns have increased since the pandemic

Covid-19 may have prompted greater use of single-use packaging, but that doesn’t mean shoppers have abandoned all hope of sustainability. The majority of respondents to our survey said there had been no change in importance, while over a third said environmentally-friendly packaging had actually become more important to them since the pandemic hit. That rose to half of respondents among the 18 to 34-year-old age group. Only 10% of respondents said sustainable packaging had become less important to them in the wake of Covid-19.

3. Unrecyclable packaging is the biggest concern

It’s a close call, but being unrecyclable just about trumps excess material when it comes to packaging concerns. However, both were seen as far more concerning than single-use shopping bags. Recyclability has been a key priority for manufacturers, too. Most of the fmcg giants have signed up to the UK Plastics Pact, which includes a commitment to ensure 100% of their packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

4. Packaging is seen as safer than no packaging

Despite environmental concerns over excess packaging, there is a safety element at play here. Just shy of 50% of respondents to our survey thought some form of packaging –  whether plastic, paper or aluminium – was safer than no packaging. Only 12% thought no packaging was the safest of all. However, an encouraging 38% said they saw no difference in safety, suggesting they would still be open to buying unpackaged goods.

5. There are fears over loose fruit and veg

The topline stat is a positive one: six in 10 shoppers are just as comfortable buying loose groceries as they were before Covid-19. But that still leaves three in 10 who are less comfortable. That effect has been seen in shopping habits  – sales of loose fruit and veg have fallen since lockdown began. Younger shoppers were particularly likely to have these concerns. Among 18 to 34-year-olds, 33% said they were less comfortable buying loose groceries. That fell to 25% of the 55-plus age group.

Prior to the pandemic, bagless delivery was the most prevalent option in online grocery shopping. But Covid has put that sustainable option to the test. When the pandemic first hit, many of the supermarkets started delivering online groceries in bags for hygiene reasons. Although many operations have since reverted to bagless deliveries, it appears many customers still don’t feel entirely comfortable with that option. While 42% of respondents to our survey said they favoured bagless deliveries, a far more substantial 64% would prefer paper bags. That’s despite bags of any form – paper or plastic – incurring a greater environmental cost than forgoing bags altogether. 

 This feature is part of The Grocer’s Green Issue. To read the digital edition click here



This research was conducted in partnership with Harris Interactive. Harris Interactive simplifies complex decisions with critical consumer intelligence using our technology to underpin every step of your research. Find out more.