By Lloyd Mathias
There are moments when the routine of business gets impacted by sudden environmental and external factors that the business has little control over. One such disruption was faced by consumers and businesses alike on June 23, when the Maharashtra Government announced a ban on the usage of all single-use plastic bags apart from prohibiting manufacturing and sale of plastic bags. While the long term benefit of taking a positive step toward a better environment is laudable, many businesses were left struggling to manage the impact.
While larger retailers quickly shifted to paper bags, smaller neighbourhood retailers struggled with the change. Restaurants too, who primarily used plastic packaging for home delivery, had to hurriedly change to aluminium foil and disposable paper options. Perhaps the biggest impact fell on packaged foods and beverages. Coke and Pepsi will need to quickly address the issue of PET bottles for smaller formats and have already begun the process of putting in place buyback options for all their PET bottles. The plastic ban and its likelihood to be replicated in other states have put the focus on packaging, often the least focussed upon element in the marketing mix.
Brands: facing the challenge
Larger retailers and department stores have taken to alternatives like cloth bags across their stores and home delivery channels. Many consumer durable makers have repositioned their buyback offers and are putting in place recycling programmes. Beverage makers have begun printing a buyback value on their PET bottles to comply with new regulations and reduce plastic waste. In fact PepsiCo and Coke’s primary offering was the single serve, returnable glass bottle (RGB) till the ’90s, and given the pressure on PET bottles, they are likely to bring back the magic of RGBs.
Consumers too are rediscovering the value of carrying reusable cloth bags for cost savings and a better future. But the real opportunity for brands is to use this move to carve out a long term advantage by working at reducing cost, building more sustainable packaging and aligning with proactively changing consumer behaviour. There is sizable research indicating that millennial generation consumers value socially responsible marketing. Millennials also want companies to involve their customers in their good works. They want an opportunity to give back — whether it’s with a gift of their time or their money.
Seizing the opportunity
Moving swiftly and altering the status quo is not just important — it also highlights a brand’s innovativeness. One recalls the impact the introduction of sachets made to shampoo consumption in the ’80s — as Cavin Kare’s Chik shampoo in sachets made great headway as the first mover on the back of its innovation and pricing. But the bigger win presents itself in the larger area of sustainability. This can come about by taking a lifecycle approach by using sustainable packaging that focusses on consumption and disposal, starting with the initial design and continuing through the end of life. Companies will need to focus on right sizing and materials to best fit, and deliver their products in the most efficient way.
The solution is to deal with plastic waste by adopting technology in collaboration with all stakeholders: be it more efficient recycling or viable biodegradable alternatives to plastic.
Lloyd Mathias is former marketing head, HP Asia Pacific