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Will responsible consumption resist inflation? [Analysis]

In a recent survey, responsible consumption, particularly recycling, appears to be a fundamental trend. 74% of consumers say they buy responsible products at least occasionally. But how will this quest for responsibility evolve in the face of inflation and the resulting impoverishment? This article analyzes consumer aspirations in light of the current and future economic situation.

The figures for responsible consumption

  • 74% of consumers occasionally buy a product from a responsible brand
  • 26% of consumers regularly buy a product from a responsible brand
  • 78% of consumers are influenced by their local origin and the short circuit
  • The repairability and lifespan of products is the number one choice criterion for 78% of consumers, on a par with the national origin of products
  • Only 47% of consumers say they are strongly (41%) or very strongly (6%) influenced by brands’ responsible or committed nature
  • 55% of those surveyed consider fruit and vegetables to be the most responsible products consumed
  • In non-food products, energy is the top priority, but only 29% of respondents

A desire for short circuit and local

During Covid, we saw that consumers favored short circuits and organic food. However, this did not last, and the 2021 organic balance sheet was relatively poor, in line with what we predicted in 2020.

Nevertheless, with the war in Ukraine, we can expect short circuits to regain ground. Protectionist reflexes are indeed back, fueled by the fear of shortages. Securing local demand will therefore become a priority for many countries. We also know that the standard agricultural policy should be reviewed to allow for increased production. This should be a significant boost to local consumption.

Consumers are also waiting for such an offer. 78% of them say they are influenced by the local origin and the short circuit when deciding.

Responsible consumption in the face of war and inflation

49% of consumers feel they have consumed more responsibly in the past 6 months. That’s 17 points lower than in 2020. Of course, shortages during the Covid crisis in 2020 pushed consumers toward local producers. But the significant decline measured in March 2022 cannot be explained solely by a lasting change in behavior.

It is a fact that consumers have to make trade-offs in times of inflation and recession. This is truer because consumers’ willingness to pay for a more expensive product is limited. Only 53% of French respondents say they are willing to pay a little (48%) or a lot (5%) more for responsible products. Realized in March 2022, the survey already shows us the ambivalence of the consumer. He wants to consume more responsibly but without it costing him more. These good intentions should not resist the increase in food prices (between 2.9% and 3.1% depending on the products in Belgium and 3.4% in France). Faced with these increases, consumers will opt for cheaper products that are automatically less responsible.

Product reparability: a top priority

Ex-æquo with the national origin of a sustainable product, the reparability criterion comes first in the deciding factors for 78% of consumers. This result is significant because it indicates a basic trend and a direction to follow for all producers of sustainable equipment (smartphones, televisions, household appliances).

The era of “disposable” products is over

Consumers, whose purchasing power will be significantly reduced in the next few years, will no longer be able to financially support a consumerist society that forces them to throw away rather than repair. This option, which appeared to be the most interesting because of low manufacturing and transport costs, is no longer relevant. Transportation from China is 6 times more expensive than in 2019; the supply does not follow due to Chinese factory closures and component shortages. The most economically viable offer is, therefore, the repair.

Upcycling and recycling: the future of consumption

In this article, we analyzed some interesting initiatives in recycling and upcycling. These initiatives are bound to multiply and spread to all sectors of activity. The inflationary crisis that has hit the world is perhaps a blessing to end the era of excessive consumerism. A company that wants to ensure its future cannot ignore this trend. It must, from now on, design repairable products and integrate the highest possible proportion of recycled materials.


French market research clearly shows a powerful desire to consume more responsibly. Consumers are attentive to many signals, but their purchasing power tests their will.

Repairability and eco-design will undoubtedly be success criteria in the coming years. It is no longer conceivable for a company not to care about these aspects because they are becoming, through shortages and inflations, key success factors in a world that are becoming de-globalized. The current situation announces a renunciation of these good intentions and greater attention to the durability of products.

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Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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