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Exclusive: BWS falls into sustainability perception gap

Published:  05 October, 2023

In many ways, alcohol seems to be ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability agendas. Wine producers around the world work on nature’s front line and are among the few sectors to have successfully high recycling rates globally via glass. Spirits have been at the forefront of experiments with alternative formats and zero waste projects.

Yet, when it comes to communicating this story to consumers, it seems that alcohol brands are falling behind. According to new research from Kantar, released today and shared exclusively with Harpers ahead of its release, BWS are failing to distinguish themselves in the global scramble to make positive environmental and social changes.

Dubbed the Sustainability Sector Index 2023 (SSI), the study quizzed 26,000 consumers about their perceptions of various sectors in 33 global markets in all facets of sustainability, alongside their buying behaviours. When it comes to sustainability perceptions overall, the BWS sector has an index of seven (where 100 is the highest and -100 lowest) and is in the bottom 10 of the sectors included in the study, ranking only just above oil and gas, luxury goods, vapes and cigarettes.

  • Read more: Wine Society outlines bold new sustainable initiatives

The sector also has quite a large value-action gap of 62%. This metric shows the gap between consumers’ good intentions and their actual buying behaviour, demonstrating a lack of clear information from brands in terms of how they are making meaningful changes.

Clearly, there is a disconnect. Alcohol brands have done much to advance their stake in environmental and social wellbeing in recent years. But when it comes to helping consumers make the right decisions, Karine Trinquetel, global head of offer for the Kantar Sustainable Transformation Practice and SSI lead, says BWS could do much more.

“When we asked ‘why are you not making better choices?’, consumers said ‘there isn’t enough information. We don’t know how to shop in ways that can have an impact’. So it’s down to a lack of clarity, understanding and knowledge,” she shared.

One caveat is that this disconnect isn’t specific to alcohol. BWS was one of the sectors with the highest value-action gap, in the study. Yet, the majority of sectors also aren’t signposting their sustainability credentials effectively. The figures show that across sectors, 84% of consumers want to make more sustainable choices, though only 27% are actively doing it.

Study shows there are many ways for the sector to improve and better communicate its advances. They range from working effectively with pricing strategies to ensuring availability of sustainable options. Product transparency and clear labelling and certification are also all part of the solution.

In terms of greenwashing, perceptions are slightly more positive when compared to other sectors. When asked if they have witnessed greenwashing in BWS, 46% of respondents answered in the affirmative. This puts the sector lower than the average across all sectors (52%) in real terms, however, the figure remains quite high.

“One out of two people think brands greenwash in the sector, which can lead to mistrust and rejection. So, it’s still a red flag,” Trinquetel told Harpers.

Notably, the study only focuses on full-strength alcoholic products. It doesn’t take account of the advances in low & no, which have helped to give the sector an image boost while demonstrating its ability to innovate and evolve.

The issue remains, however. A vast majority of consumers just aren’t aware of the sustainable alternatives available – or don’t know where to look.

“For a lot of categories, including alcohol and drinks, the challenge is to build awareness of these innovations and scale them up,” Trinquetel concluded.

For the full story, see the October edition of Harpers, available now digitally and in print.