Predicting Sustainability Demand


The demand for sustainability-first brands has increased, and is set to continue. The media is awash with stats about the exponential growth of sustainability-first brands, relative to the market average, and the investment community is ‘all-in’. 


As a budget-holder, how do you decide on what sustainability issues to back? You need to be sure that you’re spending money where you can have maximum impact. How do you predict and act on sustainability demand? 


Sustainability demand is created by the intersection of ESG needs, culture, business and brand objectives. When we’re predicting sustainability demand, we create a Sustainability Demand Matrix which incorporates the following:


  • Material Impact – the sustainability issue to be addressed within environmental, social and governance to reduce risk and be attractive to the investor community 
  • Investor Momentum – understanding investors’ priorities past and present as a signifier of what will drive corporate agendas
  • Consumer Sentiment – what’s happening now and what do we expect to happen next?
  • Culture – what’s the broader landscape within which trends are manifesting?
  • Business agendas – what are the targets that the business has set? What are the capabilities of the business to reach these targets?


Let’s use our Sustainability Demand model to explain the explosion of the plant-based category.


The exponential rise of plant-based foods category in the UK such as Meat Free 18.3% growth1, and Dairy Alternatives + average of 20% YOY2 is an example of sustainability demand. This increase in consumption is not driven by a sudden surge in vegans (although this number has increased by around half a million people in the UK in the past year3) … but by a collision of factors that contribute to demand. 


Firstly, there is a sustainability issue to be addressed, in this case a material impact on the environment – the production of meat (besides the ethics of animal welfare) has a huge impact on deforestation, climate change and biodiversity (to name a few). In other words, meat production has a material impact.


Then there’s the market landscape – where many issues are intertwined. Let’s look at this through the different lenses.


Investors are interested from an environmental and innovation perspective – reducing environmental impacts such as greenhouse gases and investing in emerging technologies such as cellular agriculture.


Consumers are interested in stories about meat production, health, and are excited about the novelty of meat-free choice they are being presented with. The positive sentiment towards this space is increasing, the volume of conversations is increasing, and the trends are set to continue. 


In culture veganism is the new hipster. By choosing vegan products, you’re wearing a badge of honour, a badge that says “I care”, “I’m a thinker”, “I’m experimental”. Choosing vegan is cool or sick (depending on your generation). Influencers such as Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus are advocates for meat-free living, and when the likes of Bill Gates and Leonardo Di Caprio back businesses like ‘Beyond Meat’, you’re probably onto a winner. When Deliveroo starts delivering from vegan restaurants, Vegan Butchers become part of our taxonomy and businesses like The Fauxmagerie take off, then you definitely are.


In business agendas, corporates have set targets to reduce material impacts through innovation, leading to technological advances lab-grown meat, alternative protein sources and cellular agriculture are booming,


So how do you create Sustainability Demand?


This doesn’t have to be about creating a new category like plant-based, and doesn’t have to be about innovation. It can equally be about knowing how to participate in a sustainability space through storytelling or activation. 


Richmond Sausages saw an innovation opportunity to brand-block with meat and meat free, Gillette went with a social movement with #MeToo, and Corona faced into ocean plastic with their Pay With Plastic initiative. 


The sustainability landscape is vast covering everything from emissions to mental wellbeing, water scarcity, or the safety of the Asian community and women on the streets. If you’re in shampoo, whisky, food or telecoms and wondering how to match an ESG agenda with your brand and genuinely have an impact, using our Sustainability Demand Matrix is a great place to start.


This is about predicting sustainability demand, and finding the best fit for your brand.


Certain sustainability issues, such as the impending climate disaster need to be incorporated as business as new normal, something that we as professionals and individuals should address (whether we work in consumer goods, industry or the service economy). 


However, Environmental Social and Governance Investors are looking at how well-rounded businesses are in addressing sustainability issues. This goes beyond Environmental Impact.


As Mark Carney has laid out in his new book Value(s), creating a roadmap to a better world requires the blurring of economic and social values. This is the new sustainability.


1 Source The Grocer ‘Focus on Plant Based’ and Kantar WorldPanel 52 w/e 6 Sept 2020

2 Source The Grocer ‘Focus on Plant Based’  and Kantar WorldPanel 52 w/e 6 Sept 2020 – average growth excluding BSM

3 Source Finder UK Diet Trends 2021