by Naomi Sleeper, VP of Continuous Improvement and Strategic Initiatives, Imperial Distributors
With the 2010s decade coming to a close(!), it’s time to set some strong resolutions for the next year (or 10). In this spirit, I dedicate this column to changes our industry can make for longer-term impact: on environmental sustainability.
While “responsible consumerism”—including environmental and social sustainability—is not new, this trend became mainstream this year, according to Forbes’ “6 Global Consumer Trends for 2019.” Large companies are increasingly answering Millennials’ favorability toward mission-driven companies whose social and environmental activity are not just extracurricular but fundamental to their purpose. With a greater emphasis on a “circular economy” (that designs out waste and pollution, keeps products and materials in use and regenerates natural systems; See the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.), consumers are now expecting sustainability to be built into companies’ products and services. Supermarkets have the opportunity to show their own commitment to action toward these goals by promoting sustainable and local products.
Despite growth in natural health and beauty (HBW) products across retail clusters in recent years, most green general merchandise (GM) products remained within premium retailers. With increasing availability of mainstream-priced green products, however, we are starting to see broader distribution of sustainable products in supermarkets.
To help with a New Year’s resolution to provide more sustainable product offerings, here are the top three easy-win categories for entry into (or growth in) green GM.
- Compostable & Reusable Straws: The environmental impact of plastic straws, particularly on marine life, has become an important environmental issue of concern to consumers. Generally not recyclable and taking a couple hundred years to decompose, the 400 million plastic straws used by Americans each year contribute to a significant portion of trash in our oceans. California’s ban on plastic straws in restaurants this year paved the way for action across the country, specifically leading to development of a variety of straw alternatives. A broad array of brands, ranging from value to premium, have produced straw products in various materials that now are available to supermarkets. Plant-based compostable and paper straws provide direct substitutes for disposable plastic straws in clip-strip programs. Metal and silicone reusable straws, in a variety of sizes and patterns (some conveniently packaged with straw cleaners), also can be featured on independent racks and power panels.
- Recycled Wood Housewares: Local recycled wood products are replacing bamboo as a more sustainable alternative for kitchen tools and tableware. For those in New England, Maple Origins, made in Connecticut, is a locally produced line of recycled wood composite bowls. Recycling wood extends the life of this renewable material, and local sourcing means a lower carbon footprint in the overall production process. With a variety of color offerings, this line also provides a great opportunity to keep the product assortment seasonally relevant and fresh to shoppers all year long. In line or on a freestanding rack, we recommend trying this one out with our seasonal-color picks in 2020.
- 100 Percent Natural Candles: Following on the popularity of natural candle alternatives for seasonal assortments, demand for year-round availability of natural candles in supermarkets now is increasing. Manufacturers have responded with products suitable for the grocery channel. For example, Nature’s Own Natural Candles, with year-round 100 percent natural fragrances—like Thai Lemongrass, Acai Berry and Sea Salt—and 100 percent natural plant-based wax and wicks, provide premium-style candles at prices fit for supermarkets. This line provides supermarkets with a sustainable alternative (with better, natural aromas) to conventional petroleum-based paraffin wax candles typically found in grocery.
These products contribute to the circular economy and show shoppers that supermarkets are taking action in response to consumer concerns, even without legislation or local mandates. Here’s to a new year and decade of responsible change for a sustainable future!