Sustainability snags: More support needed from APAC retailers to match brand efforts – experts

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Retailers in APAC need to increase the support given to sustainability-focused food and beverage products. ©Getty Images
Retailers in APAC need to increase the support given to sustainability-focused food and beverage products. ©Getty Images

Related tags Sustainability Retailers Brands

Retailers in APAC need to increase the support given to sustainability-focused food and beverage products in order to match brand initiatives and boost consumer awareness, say experts.

Although sustainability has been identified as a rising trend in the APAC food and beverage scene for some time, it is yet to take off to the same extent as western nations.

According to sustainability-focused brands within the industry, one area where support is still lacking is at the retailer level.

They argue more needs to be done at this stage before consumers get the level of exposure required to make sustainability part of their everyday lifestyles.

“Many companies and brands are trying to be ethical and responsible by increasing their sustainability focus, and there are many SMEs which are fully sustainability-focused – all of which are facing similar challenges,”​ sustainable tea brand English Tea Shop Founder and CEO Suranga Herath told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“The issue now is not with the consumers, the time has passed for that argument as we now have clear evidence to show that all around the world consumers will make the right choices when they are given the chance and the access.

“The issue is more about the accessibility at the trade level, as this is the stage that is now clearly too slow in their response – mindful consumers have been demanding ethicality and sustainability in their purchases for quite a while, but trade is still sticking to the traditional products and formats because it is what they know.

“So what happens is that the consumer is not in control of what they buy or consume in the sense that they can’t buy something if it is not available on shelves, regardless of whether it’s in a physical store or a hybrid or online, so they do not have access to these sustainable products.”

It is well-known that at this point in time, products that have a sustainable focus tend to be higher in pricing whether these are organic, upcycled, single-origin and so on.

This is usually because the companies behind these products tend to not yet have the scale needed to bring costs down, but at the same time it also introduces an element of risk in terms of higher prices.

Retail risks

This in turn means that sustainability-focused products need to bring much more to the table in order to get stocked on-shelf – but Herath believes this is a chicken-and-egg situation.

“The question now is that whether big or small, is trade innovating enough, taking enough risks and investing enough in future-oriented areas such as sustainability and innovation?”​ he added.

“Few have taken these strides and in my personal opinion the situation so far has been a bit disappointing, whether it be in travel retail or conventional domestic retail.

“Eventually, it is trade that controls what is in front of the consumers and determines the purchase options they get, so it needs to be ahead of the curve in terms of innovation and making change which in the long run is likely to benefit them the most as well.

“It is a no-brainer that in the long run, trade and brands will need to work together more closely as it is clear that the mindful modern consumer has certain demands that need to be met, and one of the only ways will be for sustainable products to be given the opportunity, the shelf space, the pricing and so on to ensure accessibility for them.”

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