TR Consumer Forum: Conscious Consumerism session highlights

By Faye Bartle |

Conscious Consumerism session, TR Consumer Forum 2022.

Panellists engaged in lively discussion during the Conscious Consumerism session at the TR Consumer Forum 2022.

The Conscious Consumerism session at the TR Consumer Forum, organised by TRBusiness and m1nd-set which took place from 4-6 September in Cyprus, sparked a stimulating debate on ways to translate the growing appetite for sustainable products and experiences into the travel retail environment.

Photos: Ogival Visuals

Key talking points to emerge from the session, which featured a five-strong panel of industry stakeholders, included avoiding greenwashing by doing a deep dive into alternatives; finding commercially viable solutions; and how consumers perceive brands with sustainable credentials in the channel, as well as what is driving their purchasing behaviours.

Clara Susset, Chief Operating Officer, m1nd-set kick-started the conversation with some eye-opening consumer insights that painted a picture of what is expected from the industry.

Referencing people’s state of mind due to the pandemic, Susset said: “Reassuring travellers about health measures and wellbeing is becoming a key part of the experience to ensure everything goes seamlessly and smoothly for them.

“We have found that 88% of consumers are saying these measures are necessary for them to be safe. And being in the right mind to shop starts here, with helping them to feel safe and healthy.”

Increasingly savvy consumers

According to m1nd-set research, the number of travellers concerned about living in a sustainable way has increased compared to two years ago, with 75% saying they are considering sustainability when making their purchasing choices in travel retail.

The research pointed to the share of consumers in China and Asia Pacific as “above the average” when it comes to seeking out products with sustainable credentials.

In the US, a fifth of travellers are now considering sustainability above price and brand when making a choice in the store, with eight out of 10 willing to pay extra – a 15% premium, in most cases – for an items that are sustainable.

Frequent travellers, she said, tend to over index on all aspects when it comes to sustainability.

Susset went on to discuss how there is a strong link between sustainable values and the way brands are perceived in travel retail, with 71% of global travellers saying they prefer brands that are clearly showing their social, ethical and environmental values.

Conscious Consumerism session, TR Consumer Forum 2022.

Clara Susset, Chief Operating Officer, m1nd-set revealed key consumer insights on sustainability in travel retail. 

In terms of what consumers are looking for, Susset said they think about the benefits for themselves, others and the environment: “Sustainability is complex also in the minds of travellers – its not only about the environment and people but it’s about having a holistic approach when it comes to the ingredients used, the production processes and so on. We really see travellers are increasingly savvy and they take into account all these aspects.”

Certification was highlighted as an important factor for inspiring trust, in addition to suggestions from travel retail staff in-store.

Globally, 47% of travellers say sustainable products are important for them when it comes to making a choice in a duty free store with 75% willing to pay more for sustainable products.

Finding sustainable solutions

Tracy Ross, Projects & Design Manager, Sustainability Champion & LEED Green Associate, Aer Rianta International Middle East (ARIME), discussed some of the big wins for company, but also stressed how efforts are a continued work in progress.

Tracy Ross, Projects & Design Manager, Sustainability Champion & LEED Green Associate, Aer Rianta International Middle East (ARIME).

Tracy Ross, Projects & Design Manager, Sustainability Champion & LEED Green Associate, Aer Rianta International Middle East.

“During Covid, we realised the importance of sustainability – not only to us as an organisation but to consumers who were becoming more aware – and are more aware,” she said.

“It’s a complex subject and something that many of us in many regions are new to so it is a work in progress but there has been great progress in the past 15 months.”

She offered a compelling insight into ARI’s people centric culture and how placing the physical health and mental wellbeing of staff at the forefront aided greatly with the return to the retail stores after the initial impact of the pandemic.

In terms of sustainability goals, one of the biggest challenges highlighted by Ross has been the process of removing single-use plastics from its operations.

“I am pleased to say that most of our operations have managed to shift over to recycled plastic, PET or another recyclable material – we are getting there,” she said.

She spoke of some of the ‘easy wins’ achieved, such as saving on paper printing, along with other shifts such as finding ways to reduce energy consumption.

A new milestone in focus is the imminent launch of sustainable design guidelines based on LEED principles for ARI’s Portugal project.

“Those will sit within our design and build guidelines, as well as our supplier guidelines,” explained Ross.

She also noted the ‘big push’ around food and confectionery to achieve a 15% share devoted to local products within the category. “Cyprus has exceeded that with 33%,” she said.

While solutions are being found, Ross highlighted the need to do due diligence on the best alternatives.

“Consumers are now on high alert for greenwashing so if you are coming in with an alternative, make sure you do a deep dive into the scientific facts behind it,” she said.

Conscious Consumerism session, TR Consumer Forum 2022.

Graeme Stewart, CEO, Enviro-Point reinforced how ‘sustainability doesn’t have to cost the Earth’.

This is something that Graeme Stewart, CEO, Enviro-Point passionately agreed with, explaining that “there are so many alternative solutions, but quite often that alternative actually damages the environment more in its full life cycle”.

He stressed that “sustainability doesn’t have to cost the Earth – it can be affordably introduced”.

He went on to talk about the company’s experience of sourcing sustainable solutions to aviation plastic waste and its partnership with Polymateria (claimed to be the world’s first certified biodegradation technology capable of delivering full biological decomposition of PP & PE materials between one to two years after useful service life period).

When asked why post security bags weren’t always recyclable, he summarised the conundrum facing many areas of operations by saying: “It comes down to how can we introduce something sustainable but commercially viable? Could we have advertising on the bags? Is the case that you offer a single-use plastic version or offer the consumer to pay ‘x’ pence more for the sustainable solution and that conscious consumer then has the option?”

He too stressed the importance of ensuring the full solution has been thoroughly researched. He referenced the UK’s new plastic tax as a case in point and how products containing a minimum of 30% recycled plastic could potentially be upgraded to feature 100% recycled plastic.

Next, Anna Vasila, Head, Sustainability and Industry Affairs, Athens International Airport took the mic to share their airport’s view of sustainability and improving operations going ‘hand-in-hand’.

Conscious Consumerism session, TR Consumer Forum 2022.

Anna Vasila, Head, Sustainability and Industry Affairs, Athens International Airport.

“We see that there is concern for sustainability in travel and that is it on the rise post covid,” she said. “We think [serving consumers in this way] is the only way to shape our corporate sustainability strategy.

“We see that there are differences between the generations and travellers from different countries. The new generations are key to us as they are our future clients and passengers, and we have to focus and take a deep dive into what they really need in terms of the products and services they would like to receive in the future.

“But I have to say that despite the willingness of our people and the people who say they will pay more, what we have realised is that, in the end, the actual behaviour differs so we are currently monitoring this. We think that it is too early to jump to conclusions.”

Athens International Airport has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2025.

She stressed the importance of partnerships with airlines, scientists and states across the globe for moving to a greener future.

“It is a one-way road for every company and person who wants to stay competitive and sustainable,” she summarised.

A united approach

Tamara Spada, Marketing Manager, Nestlé International Travel Retail commanded the room with an engaging presentation that delved into the conversation topics raised.

“We do a lot, and we say little,” she revealed. “We need to be able to speak responsibility and with credibility as we all know the risks of greenwashing, and this is not what we do.”

She underscored the need to speak to the consumer in “the language that resonates, with a message that makes sense in a way that is believable and that we can prove”.

“That is probably the most important starting point,” she said. “And if we can find a way to offer those solutions and to try our best to end up cost neutral in the process – that is how we can shape the industry and the planet as well.”

She spoke of Nestlé’s three strategic pillars from a company standpoint: the responsible sourcing of materials, net zero roadmap and sustainable packaging.

Homing in on packaging, she reminded the audience how Smarties was the first global confectionery brand to switch to 100% recyclable paper packaging.

“By 2025 all Nestlé packaging will be reusable or recyclable, which is a massive commitment when you think of its sheer size and scale,” she said.

She described the move as important strategically, too, for “sustainably nourishing travellers’ experiences and connections” both now and in the long term.

Spada suggested that one way to potentially tackle the inflationary environment was to continue building value into the sustainable offer which, in turn, will deliver the ‘feel good’ factor for consumers.

“I think more can be done globally if we within the industry unite and come together to find common solutions and I think the TRBusiness platform certainly provides us with a way to share information and there is no harm in doing that,” said Ross.

Taking this approach, she said will give rise to fruitful results: “Economies of scale will kick in and together we will have global wins.”

The TR Consumer Forum is set to return in June 2023. Keep a watch on travelretailconsumerforum.com for more details.

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