Consumers say that sustainability influences their purchases, but most don't notice sustainability branding on packaging, according to a new study by QuadPackaging (QP), Franklin, Wis., and Package InSight, a Greenville, S.C.-based partner of Clemson University, Clemson, S.C. The research examined whether or not shoppers' behaviors are influenced by a visual sustainability rating system placed on the front of packaging.

According to the study, 92% of the participants did not notice sustainability logos on the packages despite 53% of participants saying that a simple rating system would impact their purchase and over 40% claiming sustainability influences their buying decisions.

“These results are not surprising if you take into account the barrage of logos, seals and stamps found on consumer package goods claiming some form of sustainability," says Paul Nowak, senior director of sales strategy and business development at QP, a division of Quad/Graphics. "Consumers have become numb to all the messaging on packaging, which hinders the penetration of sustainability claims."

Package InSight, which studies package performance, consumer attention and shelf impact, conducted the research in Clemson's retail lab. QP and Package InSight collaborated to create generic packaging for food, beverage and health categories and a sustainability logo that replicated an inspection or grading concept – similar to the A-B-C grading of restaurants and the idea of validation of that grade by a larger industry association.

Participants "shopped" in a typical grocery store experience using mobile eye-tracking.

"People buy with their eyes," says Dr. Julie Rice, associate director at Package InSight. "Using the eye-tracking technology in this study allowed us to provide insight into what draws an observer's attention and cognitive process; in this case, there was little interest in the sustainability logos."

QuadPackaging and Package InSight recommend that companies focus more on integrated marketing campaigns to educate customers about the efforts they are making and what their sustainability claims mean.

"It might be important to your brand to include these logos, but you don't need prime packaging real estate – awareness and education are more important to get through to consumers," adds Nowak.

This survey was conducted using eye-tracking technology with a total of 60 participants. The profiles meet an accepted shopper profile for this biometric research for primary or shared shopping responsibility for a U.S. household (70/30: female/male and broad income, education, employment, age and other household influences). All studies are reviewed by Clemson University and tested with strict accordance to established test methods and protocols.