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    Winning The Green Game: Sustainable Markets

    When it comes to "going green", the size of the opportunity is clear. The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) estimates that the size of the green marketplace (defined as products that are organic, natural or have an environmentally friendly benefit for the purpose of this analysis), is expected to reach $420 billion by 2010.

    When it comes to "going green", the size of the opportunity is clear. The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) estimates that the size of the green marketplace (defined as products that are organic, natural or have an environmentally friendly benefit for the purpose of this analysis), is expected to reach $420 billion by 2010. In addition, hundreds of certification programs now offer "eco-labels" for green products. Yet evidence shows that there is still room for growth into untapped segments, as nearly half of American adults say they want to buy green products, but end up choosing conventional ones instead. How can marketers satisfy the consumer who aspires to buy green with innovations that also rationalize with a stable of "traditional" branded products?

    The rewards might justify the effort
    Successfully developing and positioning a new product as "green" can present different challenges from traditional new product launches. In addition to having a compelling consumer proposition, it's also necessary to redefine competitors (are they green or traditional?), account for new pricing dynamics, adapt marketing communications tactics, and understand a new group of target consumers.

    The payout, however, can be substantial. Nielsen BASES and NMI experience shows that green products generate healthy consumer purchase interest and have an easier time standing out from the competition, often resulting in solid volume potential for green initiatives. And while line extensions to major brands are often highly cannibalistic, green products can offer higher-than-normal incremental growth. As an added bonus, green products frequently command a premium price, giving manufacturers an opportunity to build profitability by line extending without being locked into line pricing.

    NMI has interviewed U.S. consumers for their attitudes and behaviors toward sustainability and environmental concerns every year since 2002. From this knowledge, the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) segmentation model has been developed that classifies consumers into one of five groups, depending on their awareness and involvement in green issues.

    The five LOHAS segments as defined by NMI include:

    LOHAS (17%) -- active environmental stewards dedicated to personal and planetary health. These are the heaviest purchasers of green/socially-responsible products and the early adapters who influence others heavily.
    NATURALITES (17%) -- motivated primarily by personal health considerations. Tend to purchase more LOHAS consumable products vs. durable items.
    DRIFTERS (24%) -- while their intentions may be good, DRIFTERS follow trends when it's easy and affordable. They are currently quite engaged in green purchasing behaviors.
    CONVENTIONALS (26%) -- pragmatists who embrace LOHAS behavior when they believe they can make a difference, but are primarily focused on being very careful with their resources and doing the "right" thing because it will save them money.
    UNCONCERNED (16%) -- either unaware or unconcerned about the environment and societal issues mainly because they don't have the time or the means -- these consumers are largely focused on getting by.

    Combining the LOHAS segmentation model with Nielsen BASES experience provides a unique lens for understanding opportunities for innovation in green.

    Green doesn't have to be niche
    Many of the earliest entrants into the green segment were niche items due to a narrow consumer base, targeted benefits, premium pricing, and limited availability. However, these factors are all changing rapidly. In fact, as Nielsen examined over 400 green initiatives tested in BASES over the past two years, it was found that average consumer purchase interest fell nearly in the exact middle of the respective BASES Database.

    Green has evolved to where it can be a mainstream consumer proposition in many categories. While nearly 20% of consumers fall into the LOHAS "environmental steward" category, more than 60% have at least some interest in green, and are willing to try products that are relevant to their needs.

    Extend an established brand equity
    Branding is, of course, one of the primary considerations for green initiatives. Many of the early entries into the green segment were built around new brands to compete credibly. As consumer awareness and interest in green has evolved, mainstream brands have attempted to play in the green space as well.

    The question is, should you try to extend an established brand equity into the green space, or invest behind a new one? Perhaps surprisingly, most consumers show a clear preference for buying green products from traditional brands. Even the LOHAS consumer segment is open to buying green products from established brands. While not all established equities could stretch into green, marketers should give preference to exploring the potential for brand extension for efficiency's sake.

    Getting beyond "niche"
    To win at green, appealing to the LOHAS consumer is typically a critical first step. However, being successful in the mass market likely means that you need to move beyond the LOHAS consumer and attract another consumer group to your initiative. In Nielsen BASES experience, this broader appeal is what sets the strongest green initiatives apart from the weaker ones. The stronger green new product initiatives demonstrate similar growth in volume potential from LOHAS consumers as well as consumers in other segments.

    One of the keys to succeeding will be to set a strategy for attracting one or more other segments beyond the involved LOHAS consumer to the initiative and optimizing communication for the target. Green products often have a dual communication challenge -- convincing consumers that the new product delivers on both its primary benefit as well as its green promise. Some consumers will need reassurance on the core promise, while others will need to be convinced that it is truly green. Different segments will likely respond to different messages and features, so these choices are critical.

    Few consumers will compromise
    After paying a premium for most green products, most consumers are unwilling to make concessions on product performance. Post-use responses to green products in the Nielsen BASES Database indicate that consumers are nearly twice as likely to suggest that green foods improve their taste and that green household products improve their efficacy, relative to their feedback for traditional products. When trying a green household product or food for the first time, some triers may well be hypersensitive to aspects like taste and effectiveness. Regardless of ingoing expectations, it should be clear that manufacturers cannot afford to lower the bar, as consumers are unlikely to make repeat purchases for items that sacrifice performance for green benefits.

    The right target

    While the weakening economy shows signs of slowing the growth of green, we believe the longer term green shift will persist. Innovation in green will continue to be an area that grocers and manufacturers can leverage to differentiate themselves from the competition. Winning at green starts with relevant product ideas, but breaking through to a broad audience likely requires a more sophisticated targeting and communication strategy. Making thoughtful choices in this area could represent the difference between an initiative being a "nice little idea" or becoming the next big thing.

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