The rise of the mindful shopper

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Waterstones now has a dedicated area for books about living a greener life. It includes titles by Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the Head of Oceans at Greenpeace.

Public attitudes towards recycling and the impact of plastics on our planet are increasingly informed and becoming a real, widespread concern.

And yet…the shelves of our supermarkets remain dominated by single-use plastic packaging that reflects the ‘disposable’ society that we have created.

Over the past few decades our lives have been shaped by a desire for convenience and instant, easy solutions to meet our food needs (or wants). Ready meals, bottled water, pre-packed sandwiches, salads and breakfast pots, and shrink-wrapped multi-packs have become a way of life.

It’s a tough cycle to break – human habits die hard. Even when the human habitat is so evidently under threat.

However there are a series of dynamics now at play that encourage me to believe that change will come, relatively soon, and not just because of the loud protests of a determined minority.

Much of the spark for the focus on the impact of single-use plastics has been provided by the media (notably, Blue Planet, of course) and the activities of political and social protest groups. Yet it is the retailers and their increasingly evident commitment to removing unrecyclable elements from the packaging on their shelves that is now driving change.

When Dave Lewis says “In Tesco, packaging will be a critical aspect of our ranging decisions”* you can be pretty confident that manufacturers will do something to address this issue, even if it is taking a while to permeate into the stores.

But there is also a more profound dynamic that is emerging that could have a significant impact on the way we buy and consume our food. We are becoming increasingly mindful in our shopping behaviour.

For many years, the weekly food shop had been an almost thoughtless exercise – a trawl around a single, vast multiple supermarket on autopilot to bulk-buy to fit (and often exceed) our household’s requirements for the next 7-14 days.

The rise of the discounters has been one factor that has altered this, initially just to seek better value, but increasingly now to encourage a more ‘canny’ approach that means we shop around to balance price, quality and innovation. The expansion of ‘Express’ smaller store formats close to our homes has both reflected and benefited from this willingness to shop more frequently, often just ‘for today’.

In parallel, there has been a greater consciousness about what we put into our bodies and heightened awareness of diet-related health issues, leading to the rapid growth of product sectors that meet these needs – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free.

Sometimes driven by necessity, often by personal choice, we are shifting from shopping habits that were often inattentive and impulsive to become more careful, considered and inquisitive.

This mindful dynamic also means that we are more inclined to pay attention to the packaging that houses the food and drink we buy. It makes it more likely that we will actively re-cycle, that we will be more conscious of avoiding wasting food, and that we will more actively discriminate against unnecessary over-packaging and non-recyclable materials.

We will still seek out food that is tasty, convenient and good value, but underpin this with a mindfulness that will make our shopping a far more considered experience and help us to ‘do our bit’ – for ourselves and for the planet.

If you’d like to find out more about how your brand or sector might be impacted by the rise of the ‘Mindful Shopper’ please contact The Brand Nursery. We have a tailored half-day workshop that we can run with your team to explore the potential impact on your products, packaging and retail distribution. We are also planning a series of qualitative research forum studies that you can participate in to better understand the ‘Mindful Shopper’ attitudes, behaviours and perspective on your marketplace.

Words by Chris Blythe

An edited version of this article appeared in The Grocer on 28 September 2019

*‘The Saturday essay’, The Grocer, 31 August 2019