Research from The Nielsen Company shows that more than half of U.S. consumers would give up all forms of packaging provided for convenience purposes if it would benefit the environment, including: packaging designed for easy stacking/storing at home (58 percent); packaging that can be used for cooking, or doubling as a re-sealable container (55 percent); and packaging designed for easy transport (53 percent).

U.S. consumers are slightly more likely to give up packaging for convenience purposes than the average global consumer.

At the other end of the scale, Nielsen finds that U.S. consumers are least willing to give up packaging designed to keep products clean and untouched by other shoppers (26 percent); packaging designed to keep products in good condition (31 percent); packaging that preserves products to make them last longer and stay fresher (31 percent); and packaging information, including food labeling, cooking and usage instructions (33 percent). One in ten U.S. consumers is not prepared to give up any aspect of packaging for the benefit of the environment.

“As global concern and awareness for the environment continues to grow, consumers worldwide are demanding more action from retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers to protect the environment,” says Shuchi Sethi, vice president, Nielsen Customized Research. “While eco-friendly packaging might not be the top priority for shoppers today, it’s certainly a growing priority the food industry cannot ignore.”

Global Comparisons

Nielsen’s research uncovers some differences regarding attitudes toward packaging between different regions of the world. Generally, Europeans and North Americans agree on types of packaging they are willing to forego to help the environment with nearly 60 percent willing to give up packaging designed for stacking and storing at home. By comparison, only 42 percent of Asians would be willing to give up these types of convenience packaging, likely because Asian homes tend to be smaller and have limited storage space so “stack and store” options are more practical and preferable.

Environmentally-aware New Zealanders top global rankings as the nation most prepared to give up all packaging aspects for the sake of the environment. This may be due to high levels of ‘eco-consciousness’, including in-store reminders and recyclable bag merchandising by supermarkets.

“Factors influencing packaging preferences across cultures include whether consumers drive themselves to stores or if they rely on public transportation; the size of their homes and storage space in their kitchens,” said Sethi. “We see cultural food and shopping habits also influencing packaging choice.”

Eco-Friendly Packaging

According to studies conducted using packs@work, Nielsen’s proprietary pack research system, food retailers and manufacturers are continuously striving to meet consumer demand for more eco-friendly packaging solutions that minimize impact on the environment.

“In more eco-aware markets, including the U.S., there is an increasing expectation of packaging with minimal environmental impact, although for most consumers, this doesn’t necessarily translate into a willingness to pay more,” says Sethi. “What most consumers expect is packaging that provides an added ‘feel eco-good factor’ by minimizing environmental impacts.”

In more eco-conscious countries, Nielsen’s packs@work studies show consumer preference for packaging that is recyclable, biodegradable and safe for disposal–using materials such as paper, cardboard and/or glass rather than plastic and polystyrene. Glass packaging, for example, is considered to be hygienic, inert, recyclable, tamper proof and potentially able to extend product life. Its aesthetic appeal provides positive cues about product authenticity, quality and efficiency.

“We are starting to see some backlash against plastics that are not recyclable, or whose chemical composition may lead to tainting or degradation of product quality,” says Sethi.

Additional Findings

According to Nielsen’s PanelViews study of 65,000 U.S. households:

* More than half of U.S. consumers claim to recycle cans, bottles and/or newspapers all the time, with 20 percent doing so “most of the time.”

* Roughly 40 percent of consumers will sometimes think to look for products with less packaging.

* Nearly 80 percent of consumers make a point of combining shopping trips to save gas most, if not all of the time.

* Sixty percent of consumers buy used or refurbished products to reduce waste and materials consumption at least some of the time.

* Nearly 60 percent make an effort to buy fruits and vegetables at a local farmers’ market.

* Approximately two-thirds turn down their thermostats to conserve fuel most or all of the time.

About the Study

Nearly 7,000 consumers in 47 markets1 in Europe, Asia Pacific, the Americas and the Middle East responded to Nielsen’s packaging and environment survey. Of those, nearly 250 consumers are from the U.S.