After the pandemic, the climate crisis has returned to the forefront. Consumers are demanding a clear and straightforward eco-label. "We notice a snowball effect", says Colruyt Group.
Step by step
In March, Colruyt Group was the first in Belgium to launch the Eco-Score, a guide that helps consumers shop in a more environmentally friendly way. Thanks to the five tiers ranging from A (green) to E (red), shoppers receive information about the product's ecological impact at a single glance. In other words, it is similar to the now-familiar Nutri-Score. Both scores are part of the 'Step by Step' programme, through which Colruyt Group wants to help its consumers make a more sustainably conscious choice.
The retailer has been working on projects concerning the carbon footprint of products for years, Sustainability Strategist Veerle Poppe explains. For example, a pilot project in 2017 led to the optimisation of the private label nappies: "Thanks to the use of a super-absorbent fabric instead of wood pulp, we were able to achieve both improved quality and a lower carbon footprint. Because the nappies are now thinner, we save 400 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Impressive what we can achieve with ecodesign!"
“The time is now”
However, calculating a specific Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for each individual product easily costs 10,000 euros and several months of work. "To do that for a product portfolio of 6,000 private label products was not an option. At the beginning of January, the Eco-Score was launched by an independent French collective. It is based on a database with average footprint scores and considers several additional factors: plus and minus points for aspects such as labels, origin, biodiversity, circular packaging, etc. The concept is well-constructed, strongly underpinned and has European potential just like the Nutri-Score had, so why would we reinvent the wheel?"
The Eco-Score was launched in France on 7 January, Colruyt Group already followed suit in Belgium on 10 March. The retailer wants to claim leadership here: "We have the credibility, sustainability is in our DNA. It is also something our CEO Jef Colruyt fully stands behind. And the consumers of today are ready: they want to be unburdened: they need an unambiguous, reliable indicator that allows them to make environmentally friendly choices quickly and easily. We have had the pandemic - which is now reasonably under control - and you immediately see the shift back to the climate issue. Just think of the recent wildfires, the floods. It is coming very close, much closer than ever before. The time is now. We have been thinking and trialling for ten years, and it is time to jump."
Keep it simple
Research by Colruyt Group in cooperation with the University of Leuven shows that customers require a scoring system similar to the Nutri-Score, consisting of five colours and five letters. "As a marketer, I am an advocate of the KISS principle: keep it simple. You can not make things too complicated: people spend only four seconds in front of a shelf. In that short timeframe, consumers choose the product, look at the price, the quality, and maybe even consider health. Only then will they think about the environmental impact. If we want to communicate, we have to do it as clearly and visibly as possible on as many products as possible, across categories."
About half of consumers are showing interest - logically, Bio-Planet's customers the most of all - and market research shows that this is on the rise.
"It is unbelievable how fast things are moving. We notice a snowball effect", Poppe says. "Six months after the launch, we saw that two other major retailers decided to join in as well, and not the smallest ones. Lidl launched the initiative from its head office in Germany. Meanwhile, they are also trialling in Belgium, the Netherlands and soon Scotland. Carrefour launched the score in France and will soon bring it to Belgium as well. So, you see the same thing happening as with the Nutri-Score, but even faster."
Something is in the air, she believes. "We hope many other retailers and FMCG companies will follow suit. Today, there are more than 200 eco-labels in Europe. I personally don't know what each of them stands for... There are too many labels, and they are too complicated. We hope that a more standardised way of calculating and communicating environmental impact will come about. In France, they even want mandatory front-of-packaging labelling by 2026."
Working on transparency
Where does Colruyt Group currently stand with the Eco-Score? "We plan to label our entire Boni range with the Eco-Score on the front of the packaging soon. We want to achieve this in less than two years. At the moment, we have achieved this for about thirty products. The score is also available in the SmartWithFood app, the Xtra app, the MyColruyt app, and the Colruyt and Bio-Planet websites."
It is crucial that the label is visible when the consumer makes the purchasing decision: in the store, online and preferably as widely as possible across many categories. "Our next step will take place in mid-October: then, we will score more A-brands. Today, we already have the scores for more than 2,000 A-brands at Bio-Planet. Now, we are also going to assess Colruyt's A-brands. For consumers who wish to know more, we are working on even more transparency regarding the way the scores come about."
See you on 16 September
At RetailDetail Day, Veerle Poppe will elaborate on how consumers view the Eco-Score and Colruyt Group's ambitions for it. The event will take place on Thursday, 16 September in Antwerp. At this marketing congress for the retail industry, speakers from Zeeman, Mars Food, C&A, Foodmaker, Oats Day Long and Dobbi will take the stage.
It will be a hybrid event: 200 tickets are available for participants who want to experience the congress Covid-proof and in person. Others can follow the live stream remotely. You can find more information and tickets through this link.