Targeting the conscious consumer

Adopting more sustainable business practices is a win-win for Canadian retailers

Consumers are becoming more conscious about what they buy these days, and sustainability is playing a bigger role in their purchasing decisions. From clothes to cars to food, consumers are placing a greater emphasis on where and how the goods they purchase are sourced. According to Euromonitor International’s 2017 Global Consumer Trends Survey, more than 67% of Canadian consumers said they try to have a positive impact on the environment through their everyday actions. A growing number of Canadian food producers and retailers are jumping at the opportunity to target this new ethical consumer by focusing on local production, plant-based food alternatives and reducing food waste.

A source of pride for Canadians is their relatively strict regulatory environment and close oversight on food safety, processing and labelling. This has led to a growing preference for foods made in Canada or made with Canadian ingredients, and retailers are getting behind the local food trend. Loblaw and Walmart Canada helped facilitate the establishment of organic baby food in Canada through their support of two leading organic baby food brands—namely Baby Gourmet and Love Child. These brands grew from small, niche brands into major brands with national distribution and attained category leadership in about five years. An IGA in the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent took local food to new heights when it planted a rooftop garden. Now in its second year of operation, the store sells the produce directly to shoppers. As this trend progresses, retailers might consider sourcing more Canadian-produced ingredients in their private-label products, or using more local ingredients in their store’s prepared food sections.

Growing evidence of the health benefits associated with a plant-based lifestyle is convincing consumers to try more flexible diets that contain fewer animal products. Health Canada is even revamping the Food Guide based on the health and environmental benefits of cutting back on meat consumption. With Canada’s growing multicultural population, including many cultures that are rooted in a vegetarian lifestyle, this trend is surely one with staying power. Food companies and grocery retailers have an opportunity to look for ways to introduce the plant-based lifestyle into stores through plant-based cooking classes or private-label products, for example.

In stride with consumers’ growing awareness of the impacts of global food supply chains and animal-based products, consumers are also paying more attention to the amount of food waste they generate. Often a cost-related concern for food operators, Canadians’ omnipresent concerns about the environment are driving a movement to eat root-to-stem, and they are taking up the challenge of zero-waste eating. Led by the National Zero Waste Council, the Love Food Hate Waste campaign is based on a similar U.K. model through which avoidable household waste was cut by 21% in its first five years.

Walmart Canada and Sobeys are joining local and provincial governments to address food waste and educate consumers on ways to better use and avoid over-purchasing food. Restaurants are also a source of inspiration for food waste management. Craft Beer Market, the largest LEAF-certified restaurant in Canada, is all-in on reducing its environmental impact. In addition to its composting program, the company uses only biodegradable to-go containers and paper products, and even outfits its staff in Levi’s Water

As consumers continue to focus on sustainability efforts in their daily lives, they will demand the same from the places they shop and the food they buy. Adopting more sustainable business practices is indeed a win-win scenario for Canadian retailers. Buying local, investing in plant-based alternatives and reducing food waste can cut operating costs and build a better brand image at the same time.

Clare Butler is a senior business development account manager at Euromonitor International, an independent provider of strategic market research.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s September/October 2018 issue.