Sustainability: What consumers expect and 3 actions restaurant + grocery brands should take today

Kalli Hannam | Aug 11, 2021 Kalli Hannam 08/11/21

“Sustainability” isn’t just a buzzword brands can throw around without taking action or factoring it in to the customer experience. Today’s consumers are more environmentally conscious and are awarding their business + loyalty to organizations prioritizing sustainability initiatives.

In a recent SMG study conducted through SurveyMini®—SMG’s location-based mobile research app—more than half of the 27,000 consumers we surveyed said sustainability was important to them and brands should be taking more action to protect the environment. Topping the list of eco-friendly practices they expect are the use of environmentally friendly packaging and leaning more on local sources.

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The good news is many of these sustainable efforts won’t just appease customers—if done in the right way, eco-friendly tweaks can save brands time and money. They also won’t be disruptive or alienate customers who are less concerned with environmentally friendly practices.

To figure out what makes the most sense for your brand’s customer experience, here are 3 simple and effective sustainable efforts to consider.


1. When it comes to providing to-go utensils, ask—don’t assume

Our research shows more than half of take-out orders are eaten at home—where utensils, napkins, and condiments are likely available to customers. That means if your staff is dumping handfuls of these in every off-premise order they fill, most will get tossed—costing your brand money and contributing to more landfill waste.

The easiest solution is to simply ask customers what (and how many) utensils and condiments they need. Incorporate the question into all online or app orders. Instruct your front-line staff to confirm when taking customer orders over the phone or in person. Customers will appreciate you giving them the option to specify their preference.  

Additionally, with 60% of customers ordering carryout or drive-thru orders four or more times a month, this small tweak will have a big long-term impact.

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2. Reward customers for supplying their own bags

With some local and state governments implementing plastic bag bans, grocers should consider a reward system for customers bringing in their own bags. Our study shows customers want to be offered a discount for suppling their own rather than be penalized when they forget. In fact, 71% said they would not be willing to pay extra for plastic bags.

And with 56% of consumers saying they’d consider changing where they normally shop to give their business to a more sustainable store, grocery brands should consider options that reward (not punish) customers.

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3. Provide paperless options when possible

Sustainability expectations are going to vary from person to person. This is why it’s especially important for your brand to have a deep understanding of core demographics and to keep them in mind when you establish eco-friendly practices.

This is especially true with transaction receipts. When it comes to printed vs. paperless, our research shows a split down the middle. Although half of consumers prefer a printed receipt, half want a paperless alternative—especially those 44 and younger.

Providing the option for a digital receipt allows you to still solicit experience feedback from customers in a way that appeals to the more environmentally conscious consumer.

Beyond receipts, restaurants should also consider implementing paperless menus through QR codes. This contactless option erupted in popularity during the pandemic, with more than 80% of consumers from our study saying they are comfortable using this method.

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Evolve sustainability efforts to align with your customer experience strategy

Customer expectations are sky high, and every interaction with your brand can be the difference in earning lifetime loyalty or losing that customer forever.

That’s why SMG’s customer experience management solution encompasses every touchpoint in the customer journey—combining technology and services to collect, analyze, and share feedback and behavioral data—so it’s easier to deliver and activate insights across the enterprise.

To learn more about how we help brands get smarter about their customers to drive changes that boost loyalty and improve business performance, reach out.


Kalli Hannam | Research Manager

Customer Experience Update