Eco-friendly brands need sustainable sales in store

by Guest Contributor Lee Smith | November 06, 2019

Author: Lee Smith

Lee Smith
Global Head of Commerce

When it comes to eco-friendly packaging, good intentions are not enough: sustainable products also need to earn attention at the shelf because people can’t buy what they don’t see.

At a drug store near my mother’s house this spring, I discovered a store brand product that ticked all the eco-friendly boxes: a pack with two, small refill capsules of bathroom cleaner concentrate. Simply screw the mini canister on your old spray bottle, add water, replace the spray nozzle, and…voilà! You just saved 80 percent plastic vs a new bottle. You saved money: a double pack costs the same as one traditional spray bottle. You carried home a mere 4 oz of liquid rather than 16 oz, and your recycling bin is still almost empty. Eco-friendly. Brand with a benefit. Brand with a purpose. Brand with a reason to believe.

No drawbacks to this scenario (unless maybe you are in the plastic industry), but here’s why people will not buy the eco-friendly capsules: they won’t see them on the shelf. Imagine you are buying bathroom cleaner: you’re searching the shelf for the familiar shape and colour of your favorite spray bottle. Would you notice the small box, and if you did, would you intuitively recognise it for what it is? Chances are you are already in the next aisle.


I believe many consumers want to reduce plastic waste, but they can’t buy what they don’t see. Brands launching eco-innovations must think through the entire marketing chain to ensure they succeed. Considering what new packs look like on the shelf vs what shoppers are searching for has always been key, but it takes on new importance when we think about changing people’s consumption behaviours. These appealing packs say ‘eco’, but they resemble printer cartridges more than they do bathroom cleaner.

The in-store product choice is mostly intuitive and completed in a flash. Will a distracted, busy shopper take notice of the new pack or default to buying yet another spray bottle? What do you think? Above the line, below the line, what needs doing to make sustainability sustainable at shelf? Are first-movers at a disadvantage? Does this require legislation or will brands and retailers solve this on their own?

Back visiting mom last week, I went to stock up on the little guys, but they were no longer on the shelf. Finally, in a 50 percent off basket with last season’s chartreuse nail polish near the cash register, I found four remaining packs. I bought them all.

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