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Nielsen: Millennials Driving Rapid Growth of US Sustainability Market

Was 2018 the year of the “influential sustainable consumer,” as Nielsen has decreed? The market research firm certainly think so.

Nearly half (48 percent) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment, Nielsen has found.

These aren’t empty promises either. Consumers are increasingly “putting their dollars where their values are,” spending $128.5 billion on sustainable fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) products in 2018 alone, the company attests.

With sustainable product sales growing by nearly 20 percent since 2014—complete with a compound average growth rate nearly four times larger than conventional products—Nielsen expects the sale of products with eco-friendly attributes to surmount $150 billion by 2021 and make up a quarter of store receipts.

It should come as no surprise that a gap divides generational attitudes toward what Nielsen calls “sustainable purchase intent.”

When surveyed, millennials are twice as likely than baby boomers—75 percent versus 34 percent—to say they are definitely or probably changing their habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

Millennials, which the Pew Research Center defines as people born between 1981 and 1996, are also more willing than their older counterparts to pay more for products that contain environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients (90 percent versus 61 percent), organic/natural ingredients (86 percent versus 59 percent) or products with social responsibility claims (80 percent versus 48 percent).

More retailer agnostic than their forebears, millennials are more willing to ditch a brand in order to buy products that are environmentally friendly (53 percent versus 34 percent). Fortunately, they’re able to home in more easily on environmentally friendly products in the stores where they shop (74 percent versus 46 percent).

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The generational schism is largely fueled by technology, according to Sarah Schmansky, vice president of fresh/health and wellness growth and strategy at Nielsen.

“We’ve found that sustainable shoppers in the U.S. are 67 percent more likely to be digitally engaged, which means they are used to having the products and knowledge they want right at their fingertips,” she said. “With their devices playing a significant role in their purchase decisions, a simple and frictionless shopping experience between on and offline is critical.”

But age isn’t the only factor for companies to consider. Per Nielsen and Natural Marketing Institute’s segmentation, 60 percent of Americans fall under the “sustainable mainstream” category, meaning they want to be more sustainable but they’re also searching for added benefits such as better health or cost and environmental savings.

And consumer sentiment, as a whole, is shifting toward “healthy for me and healthy for the world,” which is influencing sales of FMCG products in multiple categories, Nielsen said.

While it’s too early to declare the past 10 years the “decade of the sustainable shopper,” U.S. consumers continue to choose sustainable products over conventional options in a limited store growth environment, making sustainability a “consistent growth opportunity for manufacturers,” the company added.