Nearly half of consumers would consider swapping to a supermarket that operated more sustainably, exclusive Retail Week research has found.

Customer behaviour is becoming increasingly affected by issues around sustainability and new research compiled by Walnut Unlimited (formerly ICM) exclusively for Retail Week shows 47% of shoppers would consider swapping to a supermarket that operated more sustainable.

That figure jumps to as much as 67% in the 18-24-year-old cohort, and 62% of 25-34 year olds. When split into gender, 50% of women and 43% of men said they would swap supermarkets based on sustainability.

Consumers also said they would pay more for environmentally friendly products. Of all the consumer age brackets, 18-24-year-olds were found to be most willing to pay more – 72% of respondents in that age bracket said they were either fairly, or very likely to do so. Overall, 53% of respondents said they would be willing to pay more for more environmentally friendly products.

Issues around sustainability have become increasingly important for retailers and customers in recent years. A number of major fashion retailers were called out by MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee last week for failing to commit to reducing their environmental impact.

Plastics and palm oil

Just over half of the 2,000 consumers surveyed (51%) between January 18 and 21 said supermarkets’ use of plastic was their biggest concern. Animal testing was the second biggest issue, with 42% of respondents, followed by palm oil with 32%.

Walnut Unlimited research manager Emily Pitman said: “Plastic is a key issue for consumers, with over half of consumers considering plastic when making a purchase.

“With carrier bag charges, removal of plastic straws and cutlery, and public campaigns for widespread reduction in single-use plastic, we’re seeing huge step changes in awareness and long-term solutions for the issue.”

The research found that older consumers are more likely to take plastic into consideration when purchasing, with 61% of over-55s  saying they took this into consideration.

Increased public discourse around plastic use by supermarkets have been mirrored in consumer opinion – nearly half (44%) of respondents said this made them consciously modify their behaviour, compared to 38% in November 2018.

The research also found nearly a quarter of the population are consciously choosing to reduce their palm oil consumption.

Pitman said this was due to “public campaigns such as Greenpeace’s ‘End dirt palm-oil’”, which has increased the visibility of this issue in the public consciousness.

“We see that while a third of consumers are worried about the palm oil problem, almost a quarter are already reducing their consumption of it,” said Pitman.

Iceland achieved a great deal of positive press before Christmas, with its much vaunted anti-palm oil advert. However, it was revealed in January that it had still not removed palm oil from 28 of its own-brand products.