Battle of Market Forces: Convenience vs. Sustainability

In this case study, the author shares a personal shopping dilemma through the lens of a researcher dedicated to brand health.

The author(s)

  • Amy Charles Global Brand Health Tracking
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A new food market opened in my Toronto neighborhood. The store is called bare market, and what makes it a sensation is that you not only bring your own shopping bags, you also need to bring your own containers to buy any of the goods they sell, which range from prepared food & food ingredients, to shampoos and essential oils.

While bringing your own bags to grocery stores is a familiar practice for many Canadians, bringing your own set of containers is not. It’s a true “zero-waste” concept, a word that’s quickly working its way into our lexicon in 2020 (alongside “circular economy” and “upcycling”). This new store concept was so seen as so revolutionary that someone in my Facebook feed shared a virtual tour, commenting that they hoped this would become the mainstream way to shop.

: credit @jakegrahamphoto and @megangloverphoto
Credit @jakegrahamphoto and @megangloverphoto

I was inspired to make a trip to the bare market to experience it myself. Once in the store, I was pleasantly struck by the minimalist design, the olive oil on tap, and the simplicity of the process to weigh (“tare”) my containers and fill them. Despite the small size of the store, I was also surprised at how long it took me to find what I was looking for in a sea of similar-looking bins.

As I filled my bottle with kombucha (also on tap!), I wondered in this era of ever-growing options for customized meal plans and food delivery services, how likely people will be to put in the effort to shift toward zero-waste and “go bare”, and will first-time visitors, despite good intentions, fail to return not because of the quality of the goods but because doing so requires a cascade of changes?

Changing Routine Is Harder Than We’d Like to Think

Globally eight in 10 people believe we are heading for an environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly[i]. Single-use plastics[ii], like straws[iii] and plastic bags have become the poster children for environmental irresponsibility, yet, at least for some, asking people to bring their own bags (BYOB) to the grocery store or reusing their towels at hotels is going one step too far.

We only need to look as far as the last diet or fitness trend we tried to know that changing our routine is harder than we’d like to think. Adopting a new routine is just one of the factors that BYOC (Bring Your Own Container) shopping will have to overcome before it becomes the mainstream way to shop. As much as I like the idea, and I already do some shopping this way, the bare market didn’t have everything I needed, and I hesitated to buy some items because I missed the comfort of my familiar brands. But perhaps the biggest barrier is an emotional one. To set myself on the path to be a more consistently sustainable consumer, I’ll need to not only adjust my behavior and attitude, but also rewire my associations with brands. Changing habits is hard and we just might need brands to help us get there.

Shopping is Really About De-Selection

Technology is shaping shopper behavior[iv]. With increasing expectations of convenience and ever-decreasing attention spans it is getting even more complicated to choose. Stuart Wood, VP, Path to Purchase at Ipsos believes that shopping decisions, both in-store and online, are really about “de-selection”. What people know and believe about brands has a greater influence on their purchase decisions than any other factor.

The problem with taking away packaging, is that we also strip away many of the cues (colors, symbols, signs) that help us make shopping decisions. While shoppers may want to be more environmentally conscious, they’re not likely to forego the brand signals they’ve come to rely on because these signals make purchasing decisions easier.

Could Packaging be the Way to Sustainability?

As environmental attitudes and consumer shopping habits change, packaging may offer new opportunities for brands to demonstrate leadership on sustainability issues. Ipsos’ Global Service Leader of Pack Testing, Ian Payne, argues that, “In a world of flat CPG growth, it is packaging which offers manufacturers real opportunity to develop meaningful differentiation.”[v]

If brand signals and preferences are a barrier to sustainability, Loop - a new entry in eatbigfish’s annual list of challenger brands in 2020[vi] may have the answer. Eatbigfish’s editor Helen Redstone writes that Loop is attempting to solve the brand challenge through a collaborative and circular process that encourages consumer goods brands to sell their products in refillable, custom-designed, reusable packaging. Loop launched in France (May 2019), and a pilot is said to be coming to Toronto in early 2020[vii]. Loop just might be onto something. Removing the brand barrier could be the nudge I need to be more sustainably responsible, even if it comes at an additional cost.

The Bottom Line

As inspiring, purpose-driven and sustainable newcomers like the bare market are, their success may hinge on the battle in consumers’ minds between wanting to do good, and less mindful processes that defer to familiar, convenient, easy shopping choices. In my case, as much as I want to be more sustainably responsible, there are a lot of barriers to putting the bare market into my regular shopping routine that have nothing to do with either the concept or the store. I look forward to seeing if Loop has a greater impact on shifting my behavior, but for now, I must go label some mason jars before I forget what I put in them.

[i] Ipsos MORI Global Trends 2017 – the biggest survey of its kind

[ii] Ipsos Views | Third Moment of Truth Ian Payne and Colin Strong February 2019

[iii] Straws are out, lids are in: Starbucks announces environmental milestone

[iv] Ipsos Views | The Evolution of Shopper Behaviour

[v] Ipsos Views | Third Moment of Truth Ian Payne and Colin Strong February 2019

[vi] The Challenger Project.

[vii] Loop And Loblaw To Bring Circular Shopping Platform To Canada


The author(s)

  • Amy Charles Global Brand Health Tracking

Consumer & Shopper