TR Consumer Forum 2024: Engaging with conscious consumerism

By Benedict Evans |

The panel of leading industry voices delved into the intricacies of conscious consumerism in travel retail.

The third and final panel from day two of the TR Consumer Forum 2024 focused on an industry-wide – indeed a global – shift towards conscious consumerism, and how travel retail can and must adapt with this shift in consumer sentiment.

Moderator John Rimmer, Director, JCR Consulting, was joined by: Clara Susset, Chief Operating Officer , m1nd-set; Bianka Pivarcsi, Head of Marketing for Budapest Airport; Arnaud Rolland, VP CSR, Lagardère Travel Retail; Michael Ripfl, General Manager – Saudi Arabia at Umdasch; Nicola Wells, Head of Category Development for Nestlé International Travel Retail.

m1nd-set data

Susset began by talking through key data points regarding consumer wants, wherein a strong minority of travellers were willing to pay more for products marketed as sustainable, with many zeroing in on the reusable element of products, such as refillable bottles.

Susset did note however that whilst consumers are far more cognisant of sustainability, their focus on the topic was far more personal in nature, and rarely top of mind: “All the data I’ve shown you is from an approach where we ask directly, but we do many other studies where we don’t ask in such a direct way, and we’ve found though consumers care, it’s rarely top of mind, so consumers need to be cued with logos, certifications, and verbal assertion,” said Susset.

Susset came armed as usual with a host of interesting data points regarding consumer choices when it came to their general attitude to the concept.

Nonetheless, the data showed sustainability was still a key consideration for travellers: “It might not be top of mind, but when asked about it the majority do think about sustainability when purchasing, a large minority pay attention in general and look for sustainability products which are good for their health.

The real question is, what does sustainability actually mean to travellers? It’s a real mix of considerations for product, packaging, caring about the planet and caring about other people, and understanding how one’s consumption impacts people’s lives.”

The bigger picture

“It involves everyone within the logistics chain down to the ground handlers to make an impact in terms of sustainability. operators and retailers as well but it takes everyone,” said Pivarcsi, referencing an integrated campaign which has repeatedly ran at Budapest Airport which was focused more on engagement rather than on ROI or sales, and was supported by both online and on-site campaigning.

The concept was simple enough, passengers were gifted a sustainably manufactured bottle if they had a sustainable product in their basket, and Pivarcsi said it was a resounding success when measured by metrics of engagement and reception: “Passengers were very open to it, we saw good reach and engagement, but we are at the beginning of the journey so we have to take care of the data.”

Wells spoke on the necessity of being forthcoming with clear messaging regarding sustainable initiatives.

Wells then emphasises the importance of recognising sustainability considerations as globally relevant, saying: “This isn’t going anywhere and its becoming more of a pressure point. Take MEA for example, there has been this sense it’s not important in this region but we know that’s not true,” she said, adding: “The data shows we can’t expect consumers to explore and find, we must be more overt in our messaging, making it obvious and easy throughout their whole journey.”

Tall poppy syndrome

In a separate panel session held at the TR Consumer Forum, Wells spoke of the tall poppy syndrome, which is an expression which refers to the notion of success bringing criticism, especially pertinent for large corporations such as Nestlé, whose supply chain is regularly at the forefront of media scrutiny with regards to labour conditions and ethical sourcing.

Arnaud was frank in his discussion on this rising awareness among consumers of their choices, both in product and origin: What I see in travel retail is more situational awareness, especially as for big brands in terms of  reputation, criticism, and NGO pressure. It’s interesting to see those figures from Clara because brands have known for a while that consumers think about sustainability, and brands have been trying to act accordingly for a long time.

The panel agreed conscious consumerism was here to stay, and action must be taken to further push both the message and underlying efforts.

The figures clearly show there is this trend which nobody can ignore anymore. There is no debate, we don’t have a choice and should accelerate our sustainability, and now the question is how to do it.”

Ripfl similarly asserted: “It is in our DNA to work and live sustainably. Take the UAE for example, or the new Norwegian regulations, for airports, operators and brands to follow. Such a situation separates the men from the boys.”

Front and centre

As a supplier and designer of stores and shop-fronts, Ripple noted: “We always need to make sure our stores are up to the most contemporary standards in terms of sustainability regulations.

In the design we look first and foremost to respect sustainable material usage in terms of energy, resources and waste material. Our design impact is such that we try and influence our designers to use energy efficient and low-pollution, non-waste, durable, repair-friendly designs, recyclable and disposable elements.”

Ripple referenced projects in Düsseldorf Airport, as well as those in Torino – whose Green Pea retail park can be fully deconstructed – Zayed International Airport, Expo 2020, and Gucci in New York.

Susset added it is important for brands to clearly signpost their sustainability credentials within these stores: “When presented with labelling or signposting people were interested and builds towards a generally more favourable perception.

Having stats and figures is important otherwise claims of sustainability are seen as spurious and it generates doubt. Relying on people who are time-pressured to make and seek sustainable choice consistently does not work, and they need to be reassured they’re making the right choices.”

Common language

Wells also posited the notion of a ‘common language’ in effectively communicating ongoing sustainability initiatives: “Especially when consumers have an attention span average of 8 or less seconds, how do you communicate something such as the difference between responsible vs sustainable sourcing, for example?”

“We don’t have the answer yet,” said Rolland, adding: “We need to test more, implement better solutions. We have plenty of questions re. bulk sales working, which category, could the refillable offer work etc, amd we know perfume is pushing it but does it work? How can we make that more sustainable? Should we promote second-hand? It’s becoming big in domestic but is it the right approach for travel retail? If yes how do we implement it?”

Rolland went on to demonstrate the general methodology behind Lagardère’s approach to the sourcing of sustainable goods and partnerships within that sphere:

“We have defined a methodology which is a two-step approach, first facing suppliers we look at the company and their brand commitment to sus, be it climate change, helping producers, promoting animal welfare (a key trend), orplastic reduction.

The panel also dove into the practicalities of conscious consumerism, including the notions of common languages and methodologies which can help in addressing this growing trend.

Being committed is not enough, however. The second step of selection is at the product level where we look more precisely in four big sustainability areas: environmental impact (which rarely comes from packaging and far more from ingredients); relation with producers and look to promote fairtrade, respect for workers; animal welfare; safety and nutrition.”

Roland added it must be a multi-organisational effort, noting: “We cannot do it alone, we are not producing the products, we need committed brands within the industry because they all have the same questions re. how can I make my sustainable product work to ensure the future of my company.

We need to tell real stories, people want facts, transparency, we need to explain in what way this product is sustainable, what does it do to protect animals etc. It’s a proof-point, fact-based conversation we need to have because people are informed and connected.”

READ MORE: TR Consumer Forum 2024: Perfecting the path to purchase in travel retail

READ MORE: TR Consumer Forum 2024: Day 1 panel discusses ‘Walking The Eco Talk’

READ MORE: Behind the scenes: Bluedog on bringing the TR Consumer Forum to life


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