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“All natural,” “fair trade,” “organic”—more and more products across the store include claims of sustainability. But what do all these claims mean? Describing a product as “sustainable” could mean that it’s sourced responsibly, for example, or that it utilizes recyclable packaging—as well as a whole host of other potential attributes. Understanding how and why sustainability claims are gaining momentum across product categories is critical to understanding how, when and why consumers prioritize sustainable options.

With all of the various sustainability factors and evolving trends in play, companies need to understand whether and how these broader sentiments play out for their specific brand and consumer profile. For example, who are the consumers you have yet to reach? Does your product have a sustainable attribute—and could leveraging sustainability claims on product packaging present a new market opportunity?

As society becomes more aware of the social and environmental impact of products and services, consumers are becoming more mindful of their purchases.

In this report, we deep-dive into three product categories—chocolate, coffee, and bath products— to demonstrate how and where sustainability sells. Our analysis focused on U.S. consumers’ purchasing behavior, using sales data from the food-drug store-mass merchandiser (FDMx) channel. There are many categories to choose from, but for this study we selected chocolate, coffee and bath products because they are sufficiently different from one another and are among the most common fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) purchases across consumer groups.

What did we find? Overall, sales of items with certain sustainability claims across all three categories grew faster than the total category.

In a recent report, we compared the performance of sustainability claims in the U.S. across three product categories—chocolate, coffee, and bath products—to understand consumers’ sentiments toward various sustainability factors.

For all three categories, dollar sales of items with the specific claims studied grew twice as fast as the weighted average dollar growth of the three categories combined. In other words, products with certain sustainability attributes outperformed the growth rate of total products in their respective categories despite challenges that might have predicted otherwise, like a relatively smaller market share.

That said, one size does not fit all. Given the range of different, interrelated sustainability aspects in each product category, we focused on select product claims for each category. But the methodology can be replicated across many fast-moving consumer goods product categories and customized for specific brands or companies. No matter what, sustainability is no longer a niche play: your bottom-line and brand growth depend on it.


Diving deeper into the chocolate category, our research explored the impact of three key claims across the category: environmental claims (carbon neutral, ethically sourced, made with renewable energy, etc.), absence of artificial ingredients, and fair trade.

Source: Nielsen Answers on Demand (Health & Wellness Characteristics) & Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight | Total US FDMx | 52 Weeks Period Ending 03/24/2018 vs Year Ago

While chocolate with environmental claims makes up only 0.2% of the total category share, it grew by 22% from March 2017 to March 2018. This is more than 4x the rate of total category dollar growth when it comes to sales. Looking at units, it’s a similar story: We see chocolate with environmental claims flying off the shelves at a rate 5x faster than The overall market—15% unit sales growth compared with 3%.

Sales of products with fair trade claims (which make up only 0.1% of total chocolate share) are growing faster than the overall category as well, with dollar sales growth outpacing category growth by 2x (10% vs. 5%) and unit sales growth by 5x (15% vs. 3%).

Chocolate that is free of artificial ingredients, or made with “clean” ingredients, is growing on par in unit sales with the total chocolate category, both growing at 3%. This could lead to the assumption that products with this claim are not growing faster than the total category. However, products with this claim have grown faster from a dollar sales perspective than the total market (16% vs 5%). Based on that, we can infer that price is actually higher per unit, and that consumers are willing to pay more for the sustainable choice.

Along with the increase of the average retail unit price, chocolate free from artificial ingredients is increasingly being sold in a greater number of stores, while the distribution of all other chocolate is flat. This again shows that consumers are actively choosing to pay more for chocolate products free of artificial ingredients and that brands are increasing distribution to account for that demand.


As with the chocolate category, we’ve chosen to take a look at the same three sustainability claims for coffee: environmental claims, absence of artificial ingredients and fair trade.

Source: Nielsen Answers on Demand (Health & Wellness Characteristics). “Absence of Artificial Ingredients” data sourced from Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight | Total US FDMx | 52 Weeks Period Ending 03/24/2018 vs Year Ago

While the total coffee category declined 1% in dollar growth from March 2017 to March 2018, coffee products with environmental and fair-trade claims experienced double-digit dollar sales growth for the same period. Overall, sales of coffee products with sustainability claims grew faster than the total coffee category.

In many ways this space is evolving; however, what we do know is that sustainability presents an opportunity to be creative about innovative growth. Embedding consumer demand for sustainability into your company strategy and product pipeline requires data specific to your brand footprint and consumer profile.

For more information, download our full report, “What’s Sustainability Got to Do With It?

Crystal Barnes
SVP, Global Responsibility and Sustainability, Nielsen;
Executive Director, Nielsen Foundation

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