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According to one study, 78% of U.S. consumers bought green products and services in 2013, an increase of 9% from 2012. Whether a business is greening its products out of a sense of environmental responsibility or responding to market demand, that figure underlines the potential business value of introducing eco-friendly packaging.

In collaboration with Package Design magazine, we recently conducted a study that looks into eco-friendly package design and what it means to consumers. Running a study on our proprietary market panel, Springboard America, we found that natural product and package design can potentially delight consumers - but doing so requires a deep understanding of your brand's target market.

If you're one of the many CPG manufacturers or retailers thinking of dabbling in green packaging, keep the following tips in mind before proceeding:

  1. Consider your target market's demographics.

A majority of the consumers we talked to (60%) agreed that environmentally conscious product packaging is a differentiator. But one generation particularly stood out: 69% of Millennial consumers (ages 18-34) think that green packaging can help products stand out. In addition, 51% of these consumers indicate that they're willing to pay more for eco-friendly packaging, significantly more than any of the other age groups.

Knowing your target market will help you navigate this generational divide, but there's also a need to track people's dynamic attitudes in the long term. Younger consumers are more willing to think about the environment and adjust their purchases based on their values now, but our data seems to suggest that this behavior declines as consumers become older and their priorities change. But with increasing media and public attention on climate change and other environmental issues, perspectives may shift more permanently over time.

  1. Avoid compensating functionality or price.

Our study shows that functionality trumps other packaging characteristics in importance. In particular, consumers like packages that can keep a product fresh and that can be resealed after use. On-package product information and package material were also deemed more influential than visual appeal. When it comes to eco-packaging, the old principle of function over form still applies.

If you want to introduce green packaging, you need to be aware that the change won't necessarily be universally well-received. For example, consumers across generations generally agree (61%) that environmentally conscious product packages are usually more expensive, leaving them to wonder if it's worth the extra cost. In many cases, eco-packaging might be interpreted as additional packaging costs passed on to the consumer. Careful research with your insight community will help pinpoint your customers' biggest concerns, allowing you to optimize your price, messaging and promotion when thinking about new packaging. Longitudinal research can also help reveal how bigger factors such as economic recessions affect people's intentions to support eco-friendly packaging.

  1. Determine what constitutes "eco-friendly."

Consumers consider a number of factors when assessing the eco-friendliness of products. For example, a great majority of the people we talked to (64%) indicated they like to buy smaller size packages of food to prevent waste. This attitude consistently appears across all age groups. Another consumer consideration is where the product is shipped from, with a majority of consumers indicating that they are interested in this type of information.

These results show that how people assess a product's eco-friendliness isn't necessarily uniform: what one person sees as eco-friendly, another may see as greenwashing. For instance, one green shopper may prefer locally sourced products, while others may prioritize buying organic, even if that means buying something shipped from halfway across the globe.

The same divergent standards play out when it comes to packaging. For some consumers, green packaging means as little packaging as possible; for others, it means using only biodegradable materials.

To optimize on-package messaging about a a package's eco-friendly attributes, CPG manufacturers and retailers should understand people's criteria when evaluating offerings and how these factors change over time. Listening to your customers is a good first step in ensuring that the changes you make to your packaging makes good business and marketing sense.

To learn more about this research, check out our article and infographics in the November 2013 issue of Package Design.

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