"It all goes together: the toxic food supply, poisoning the ground, people, animals…"

That's a potential sustainability consumer talking, and it is important to recognize what she wants - quality products and reasonable prices, but also to feel good about what she buys - and how to give it to her.

Sustainability has been a promising segment for years, with relatively few companies figuring out how to take sentiments like the one above and turn them into sales.

The segment of consumers who care about sustainability is huge: 84 percent of consumers say they sometimes consider it when making purchases.

Only about 14 percent of them are die-hard committed to sustainable purchases - that is, the "stereotypical sustainability consumer who cuts their own hair, puts it in the compost and goes out of their way to buy sustainable products," The Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt told participants at the recent 2013 Global Sustainability Summit in Seattle.

The big potential for sales lies with about 35 percent of them who are learning more about sustainability but are "not really putting any money where their feelings are yet," Demeritt told the summit, organized by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Here's a video about the Sustainability 2013 report that updates The Hartman Group's years of research into consumers' changing attitudes toward sustainability.

Like all consumers, this group wants products with high quality and reasonable prices.

After that, they want to feel good about what they're buying, and these factors are increasingly important:


  • Animal welfare, a concern across segments but driven by Millennials.
  • The impact of purchases on their local communities. They view their buying decisions as approaching the importance of their voting decisions.
  • Buying from companies that treat their employees well and are interested in sustainability as a mindset, not just a side project.


Consumers say they have trouble identifying companies that are sustainable. That makes it particularly important for manufacturers and others to be more vocal about their sustainability efforts. They should use animal-welfare labels and other certifications, share the health benefits of their products, and talk about how they are working to benefit the environment.

Some companies are reticent about touting sustainability efforts, worried they will be criticized as imperfect. But, Demeritt said, while the die-hard, "core" consumers might call them out for imperfections, most people just want the information. It's more important to convey that you are trying - with goals and measurements - than to be perfect.

Consumers want to have faith in companies whose values match their own, a fit that can happen only if those values are communicated. The communication should be straightforward so that shoppers can quickly and easily understand how buying a particular product will make a difference; it is important to avoid preaching or even trying to educate on complex issues.

What the sustainability consumers want to see varies, depending on the product. For example, in the meat category, animal welfare is the most important consideration. For cold cereals, minimal packaging and natural growing practices are key. But when it comes to household cleaners, air and water pollution are most salient to consumers.

To learn more about the report and to download the executive summary and order form, follow this link: Sustainability 2013