Industry expert and founder of two wellness businesses, Health Bloggers Community and new influencer marketplace Whole Influence, Fab Giovanetti has garnered over 8 years of experience in marketing, content, PR and social media.
Here she shares her insights on how a new breed of conscious wellness brands are connecting with consumers and pushing the conversation about sustainability forward…
Younger generations are driving the rise of ‘ethical consumerism’ in the UK. The sector has grown by more than £40bn since 2008, with households spending an average of £1,263 on ethical goods in 2017. And as a growing number of younger consumers choose to voice their concerns online – with more than 70% of them classing themselves as influencers – wellness brands of all sizes, have been asking themselves “how can I make my business more sustainable?”.
Whilst larger, more established brands have been forced to become more accountable – in part thanks to interventions like the UK Government’s pledge to review the environmental impact of fast-fashion, or its bid to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable – for smaller wellness brands, the conversation around sustainability is also increasingly becoming a driving force.
“A lot of bigger businesses claim they are big on sustainability but aren’t,” argues Doug Richards, Co-Founder of culinary school and healthy cafe startup Sano. “So much of it is marketing spin,” he adds.
Fashion retailer H&M has recently been criticised on social media for just this. The brand, which has been increasingly pushing its commitment to sustainability over the past couple of years has come under scrutiny for allegedly burning 12 tonnes of unsold but usable clothes, whilst simultaneously promoting its ‘Conscious Collection’. Meanwhile, Pepsi, Colgate and Johnson & Johnson are all ‘failing’ with their palm oil progress, according to Greenpeace.
Wellness startups like Sano, however, are attempting to integrate sustainability into every facet of their operations, and are creating commercially viable businesses without compromise.
“Smaller businesses like us are built on what we believe in and the way we source our food, coffee, packaging and supplies – it’s a critical factor in why people trust us as a brand to do the right thing,” says Richards.
“As a team, we think about it in everything we do and we take pride in it. We won a 2018 Karma Award for Food Waste in London which was a great honour for our team – the trophy is what our customers see every day when they order,” he says.
But how exactly can these smaller players really foster and execute on sustainable thinking, without the big budgets of their conglomerate counterparts?
Making sustainability part of your brand story-telling
Oddbox, London’s first wonky fruit and veg box subscription service is another wellness brand with sustainability woven into its very core.
Not only does the brand glorify wonky veg, but it understands that the true issue with consumer engagement lies in the fact that it is perceived as not being “edible”, or that by not consuming it, it becomes part of the food waste problem.
“When most people think of food waste, they think stinking, rotting food, which we’d admit is grim. But it completely misses the point when it comes to the realities of what’s classed as ‘waste’ and what that means for stopping it,” commented Co-Founder Emilie Vanpoperinghe.
The ethos of the brand is to make wonky veg fun, and that’s been crucial to engaging consumers. The startup’s Instagram account, for example, is all about showcasing the ‘veg’ and presenting it in a fun, interactive, and honest way to its audience.
And its strategy is already proving successful. The company currently packs around 5,000 boxes per week, serving 8,000 consumers in the Greater London area.
Like Oddbox, more and more wellness brands are making giving back a part of their storytelling and brand messaging, and in doing so, they’re creating a closer connection with individuals who are searching for brands that align with their own values.
Last year, sustainable activewear brand Peak + Flow used its ethical and eco-conscious values to spearhead a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Elsewhere, British yoga brand Phantai has also incorporated ‘giving back’ into its brand by donating 10% of its profits to the Elephant Protection Initiative. By communicating a purpose beyond profit, it has cultivated deeper relationships with its influencers and ambassadors. According to Founder Adrianna Salazar Marcano, these individuals feel more closely connected to the brand and its cause, so are more passionate about representing it.
In choosing to support and incorporate environmental and sustainable practices into their business models, these and many more wellness startups like them, are attracting consumers who want to be empowered to make better choices.
The battle against plastic
And as a growing number of consumers start to prioritise their commitment to sustainability, for businesses that aren’t already rethinking their approach to sustainable solutions, they risk losing their custom.
In particular, 2018 saw the consumption of, and reliance on plastic come into question in a big way, with the number one issue for British shoppers in the next decade resting on the reduction of packaging and use of more recyclable materials, according to new research.
However, with plastic still such an affordable and durable material for packaging, for a lot of brands – especially wellness startups in the process of launching products – opting for the most sustainable option is not always an easy (or financially viable) choice.
“Taking the sustainable route and going plastic-free is a big decision for a small brand as it practically doubles the packaging costs in most cases, really cutting into the margins,” revealed Nia Davies, Founder of Yugenial – an ethical and sustainable company combining science, self-care and botanical herbs to create teas and beauty products.
“However, in the end, we decided it was a value that we couldn’t compromise on, so we opted for glass which I think has a sophisticated look and feel and can easily be recycled and up-cycled.”
Like Yuhenial, a lot of startups are now working to develop sustainable packaging, and despite taking some time to catch up with industries like fashion and food, natural beauty brands are also implementing strategies to encourage consumers to recycle and upcycle. UK sustainable beauty brand Beauty Kitchen recently announced the launch of what it says is the world’s first “full-circle zero waste programme”: Return. Refill. Repeat.
The initiative encourages customers to get hefty discounts by refilling their containers and aims to change the conversation around natural beauty.
Lush, meanwhile, which opened a packaging-free concept store in Milan last year, has now launched a line of products that are 100% packaging free – giving consumers more control over their footprint. And this idea of empowering consumers is something that’s going to continue to drive the conversation around sustainability forward.
“At the end of the day, the consumer holds the key to forcing bigger companies to change and take responsibility for their actions through their purchasing power, which would ultimately lower the costs for everyone, whilst benefiting the planet,” Davies added.
And that power is already being tested. Just this week British grocer Waitrose launched the introduction of loose products including cereals, pasta and coffee in one of its flagship stores, to see if whether given the choice between buying packaged or unpackaged fruit and vegetables, which customers choose.
Loop – a durable packaging initiative run by recycling company TerraCycle, which works with brands including Procter & Gamble, Nestle and Unilever to enable consumers to order products which are then delivered to them in special reusable packaging, is also testing consumer demand for more sustainable solutions.
Both initiatives highlight how working collaboratively with consumers, conscious brands can drive the conversation around sustainability forward in a proactive and effective way, that benefits not only their business but also the wider world.