Otilia: From more frequent and extreme storms and unprecedented heatwaves to global protests for equal rights and personal freedom, we are feeling the impact of human-caused pressure on planet and people. More than ever, sustainability is a key concern amongst consumers. As part of our series on ‘Conscious Consumption’, we connect with sustainability and marketing professionals from around the world to hear about their journey towards sustainability and what this means for their brand. In this episode, we talk with Joeri Van den Bergh, sustainability expert and Managing Partner at InSites Consulting , Tom Van Avondt, Director Consumer and Market Intelligence at Perrigo, and Fleur D’Haenens, Global Category Lead Skincare, also at Perrigo. Perrigo is a global consumer healthcare company and one of the largest over-the-counter self-care companies. Next to being category lead, Fleur is also part of a smaller team within Perrigo that focuses on sustainability where she represents the voice of marketing and consumer insights.
Fleur: part of my intention is to try and get colleagues to think about it in every step that they take, so not to see it as something that at the end of the road as something we did not incorporate, but really see CSR and sustainability from the development of an NPD, but also to the development of any type of marketing materials, so just to kind of keep nudging them that it becomes a natural reflex, which is something that we don’t always have yet I think the natural reflex to take it into account. It’s about sustainability in the broadest sense – you do not always need to use a blonde white woman in your communication. Even if you live in Belgium or the Nordics. Go ahead, be more sustainable, be more inclusive, be more open up. Not be afraid. So that that’s part of the thing that I also do, is a lot of sharing of inspiration, sharing ‘ah look what this brand has done in the Netherlands’ and you share it’s – ‘see, don’t be afraid to take that step, to think about removing this or adding this, etc.’ So that’s where I come in. I would say I do the little nudges when possible.
Otilia: Fleur already touches upon the fact that sustainability is a broad topic that goes beyond environmental issues. Perrigo focuses on those aspects of sustainability that are important for the consumer, in relation to a product category. Within the derma cosmetics category, for example, they ensure products are ‘gentle to the skin and kind to the environment’ since the team knows this is vital for consumers. While in other categories, they might focus more on packaging. Mental health is another important element of sustainability that has come more to the forefront over the past years. In fact, today Perrigo is actively working on purposeful domains such as body positivity and mental well-being.
Tom: In Poland we have the Academy of Puberty that we set up with Lactacyd, an intimate hygiene or intimate care brand. And there we have an initiative – it’s already since 2012 that we have it, so we’re partnering with 2,000 schools, with parents, with young influencers etcetera. And we have content that is created by psychologists and gynecologists, key opinion leaders, and it’s bundled into a platform that teenage girls have access to. So it’s not only about their personal hygiene, but it’s also about, for instance, topics like body confidence. So which is then of course strongly linked to their mental well-being. So that’s also showing that as a brand, even if we are if mental well being is not really at the core of the category, that we do understand and take care of the life challenges of the target group and especially here, and especially with young girls, where body confidence is a very important aspect of their mental well-being, is where we also are supportive.
Fleur: To give another example, we have a great derma-cosmetics brand in the Nordics called ACO where they had a campaign where they had I think around 5-6 women and they had them all covered in beautiful colors where they would actually would normally hide it. So there was one girl that was full of I think it was acne, then there was another one that had rosacea, and there was some pigmentation. It was really to show that it’s all OK, so we do see that we’re communicating about this, towards our consumers, I would say, more and more, even with our distribution brands, bio-oil that we have, it’s more soft I would say, but we also say ‘just love your skin, regardless of where your stretch mark comes from – is it a scar or is it from pregnancy or no-growth marks, or gaining weight losing weight, it’s all about acceptance, it’s all OK.
Otilia: Another example that taps into the societal impact Perrigo aspires, is the collaboration of its smoking cessation brand, Niquitin, with the British Lung Foundation.
Tom: while smoking is a threat to your lungs and to your health, air pollution is also a big threat. So we’ve been partnering with the British Lung Foundation, not to make more people buy Niquitin to quit smoking, but working on initiatives to raise awareness about the quality of air and air pollution and what that can do to your lungs and your overall health. I think that was also a very nice one where again we go beyond the core of our product, but in the end what we try to achieve – and partnering with the real authority and also addressing people or working for people that are not just smokers so also and doing more good for society overall just beyond our core target group.
Fleur: I think it’s a super nice example, because it shows that you look at sustainability or CSR in broader aspect, and not only directed to a brand, not only directed to packaging, but really to what impacts consumers. […] I feel it’s more the subtle kind of way that makes the differences sometimes, and I think that example is a nice one. […] it’s credible. That’s what you want in the end.
Otilia: Of course – just as any other project – these purpose-oriented initiatives are challenged on business impact and whether they lead to more sales, an increased market share, or higher loyalty?
Fleur: Do you get an immediate return in net sales? I don’t think you always do, but credibility doesn’t always link to net sales in my opinion. So in the end, I think it’s a correct approach to do. Not saying it’s an easy approach though. We all know the consumer doesn’t want to pay for it, so it’s up to the company, and that’s always, in my opinion, a very tricky discussion to have
Tom: I think the consumer is aware, but then when it’s about making choices, price of course still plays an important role, and then of course you want to absorb that as a company though you cannot absorb everything, so it’s also about finding nudges on how you can change consumer behavior, how can you can raise the awareness, but it also depends on the involvement, on what the competition is doing. Because you could also think of partnering with the retailer that, like on your receipt, that you get a sustainability coefficient of all the purchases that you made, to raise the awareness or on the price tag, compare the sustainability efficiency of various products to bring that into the equation when making a choice. But that’s still one of the big challenges that we have. Because every consumer will say ‘yes it’s important’. And ‘yes, the brand needs to do it’ and ‘yes I care about the planet’, but yeah, also the wallet is a very big part of the equation and it’s very big weight in the final purchase decision, and that also makes it makes it a challenge sometimes.”
Otilia: The fact that consumers want to live a more sustainable life, but don’t want to pay for it, relates to a concept called the ‘say-do gap’. Joeri Van den Bergh explains what the ‘say-do gap’ is all about
Joeri: Research by Harvard Business Review has shown that although 65% of consumers say they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, only 26% actually do. This what we call the attitudinal versus behavioral gap or the say vs do gap. Consumers’ intentions are high, however actual behavior is low. The fact that consumers often perceive sustainable alternatives as more expensive, only adds to the say-do gap. From our own research we know that 67% of European consumers feel they should not have to pay more for sustainable products.
Otilia: Sustainability is a broad topic and for Perrigo it’s key to tap into those sustainability aspects that matter to their consumers. While environmental sustainability remains at the core of the company’s priorities, Perrigo goes beyond this by actively working on topics related to mental well-being and societal impact. And by doing so taking a human-centered approach towards sustainability. Did you enjoy this podcast episode and are you curious about other brands’ take on sustainability? Subscribe to our podcast and automatically receive this series’ newest episodes. Or download our bookzine ‘Conscious Consumption’ where we highlight key barriers for sustainable behavior amongst consumers, as well as their expectations towards brands, based on proprietary research and expert interviews with sustainability executives from various industries.