Retailers poised to become the new ‘Googles’ of the consumer goods industry

World Retail Congress

LONDON--()--At the World Retail Congress in Berlin today, Havas Media's unique analysis, Brand Sustainable Futures, revealed a positive yet diverse set of results and opportunities for retailers.

In the largest analysis of its kind – incorporating the views of 30,000 consumers across 9 markets and 150 brands – Brand Sustainable Futures shows that retail is perceived to be a leading sector in sustainability, with over 85% of all retail brands within the analysis recording above average results. Furthermore, half of the top 20 brands were from the retail sector, reflecting the developed ability of brands in this sector to use sustainable programmes to build brand equity and consumer trust.

The project uses the Brand Sustainable Futures Quotient (BSF QuotientTM) to measure the perceived performance of a company’s sustainable activities and the contribution these make to brand equity. It allows companies to take a ‘corporate temperature check’ to assess their brand's sustainable health over time, allowing for competitive industry and brand comparisons.

Top 10 global retail brands (using the BSF QuotientTM )

1   M&S   UK
2   Mercadona   Spain
3   Waitrose   UK
4   John Lewis   UK
5   Sainsbury's   UK
6   Decathlon   France
7   Home Depot   US
8   Ikea   Sweden
9   Lowes   US
10   El Corte Inglés   Spain

Summary of results:

Sustainability scores for the retail sector are on the rise (since 2009), but are rising at a slower rate than other sectors

In the first tracking results since the project's launch last year, retailers have raised their sustainability profile by an average increase of 3%. The retail results however, show lower levels of growth than other industries. For example, consumer goods are up 5%, automotive up 4% and oil and energy brands are surprisingly up by 6%. Notable exceptions in the retail sector include M&S (recording an impressive 7% growth) and Carrefour and El Corte Inglés who have both increased by nearly 5%.

US and UK retailers lead the way

Despite the overall positive results for the retail sector, Brand Sustainable Futures demonstrates some geographic differences for the industry. In Europe, retailers are playing a key role in moving their sustainable profiles forward, with retailers in the top rankings in each of the 4 European markets analysed. In particular the UK shows strong results with retailers achieving the top 5 scores (M&S, Waitrose, John Lewis, Sainsbury's and Asda) ahead of other food and consumer goods brands.

In the US, there is a greater diversity of brands leading the rankings, with retailers such as Home Depot (number 1) and Lowes (number 5) among the top 5 leading sustainable brands. Retailers in the US share the lead with food and beverage brands (Kraft, Coca-Cola, Dannon), IT and consumer electronics brands (Google, Microsoft, Apple).

In the World Retail Congress’s host nation, we see positive scores for German retailers Douglas (number 7) and Lidl (number 10). Interestingly these two retailers also share the lead with two auto brands, Volkswagen (number 1) and BMW.

Fast growing markets record greater propensity to reward sustainable brands, showing clear opportunities despite lower than average regional scores for most retailers in these markets

In fast growing markets such as Mexico, China, India and Brazil, we see a greater diversity of brands from more unexpected industries that are using sustainability to improve brand equity and are now moving ahead of many retailers in the region. Examples of this include oil company Petrobras ranked number 1 in Brazil and the strong performance of automotive and financial brands in India. In contrast, the Brand Sustainable Futures analysis reveals that consumers in these fast growing markets show a greater propensity to regularly consider socially responsible goods when purchasing (results for Asia and Latam are 61% and 69% compared to 38% and 34% for the Europe and the US respectively).

Barriers to responsible consumption for retailers differ between regions: price is a key factor in western economies whilst clear labelling is needed in fast growing markets

Despite these positive results, there is still a gap between consumers’ intentions and their actual responsible purchasing behaviour. Of those questioned who do consider sustainable aspects when shopping, over half do not do so systematically or often. The key barriers to responsible consumption in the fast growing markets are product availability and clear labelling, rather than price, the main barrier in western economies. Retailers therefore have a key role in making it easier for consumers to adopt more sustainable behaviour. Dependent on which region they are in this can be achieved either through clearer labelling, more engaging initiatives, wider product offerings in their stores or price incentives.

Company ethics is becoming increasingly important for retailers

Sustainability contributes the most to a retailer’s brand equity when companies move beyond using traditional CSR communications and transparency and use it to focus on improving marketplace and product aspects. That is, when making sustainability ‘tangible’ to consumers in the form of better product quality, relevance, clearer labelling and cost savings that also improves the consumer’s general ‘well being,’ we see higher results for retailers. Since 2009, the sector’s commitment to company ethics has also become increasingly important when developing a meaningful and authentic dialogue with consumers. This is a key area of focus for the industry as many within the sector recorded lower performance profiles for this attribute in this year’s results.

The importance and impact of different sustainability issues for retailers varies between countries and brands

In the UK and US, workplace issues such as working conditions and opportunities for employees are making a significant impact on brand equity. Retailers are often big employers - a sustainability aspect seen to increase in importance in harder economic environments. Retailers are also able to attract and employ talent through sustainable attributes – the research demonstrates how employees are important brand ambassadors with internal advocacy fast becoming a key influencer in consumers' perceptions of the retailer.

The impact of the different key drivers are further demonstrated by UK retailer M&S and Spanish retailer El Corte Inglés, who score very highly on social and workplace issues, both of which enhance the retailer’s overall sustainability profile and consumer experience at the store. Other retailers such as US giant Walmart however, still show a weaker image with regards to social issues. This in turn contributes to their lower than expected overall sustainability profile, despite Walmart’s well documented improvements to environmental credentials over the past years. This demonstrates that for brands to gain a strong sustainability image, they need to approach sustainability in a holistic way and be consistent across all sustainability issues.

The ability to build meaningful communications and more engaging story telling is also becoming increasingly important for retailers who want to successfully engage consumers and encourage sustainable consumption.

Sara de Dios López, Director Global Business Innovation Havas Media speaking at the World Retail Congress comments:

“When it comes to sustainability we believe that retailers are well positioned to become the Googles of the consumer goods industry. Through their ability to create the context for responsible consumption, they can make it easier, more engaging and relevant for consumers who are trying to live more sustainably. Like Google, retailers are gatekeepers and are in a perfect position to help consumers navigate through a universe of products helping them decide what benefits them the most at the very point of sale. Brand Sustainable Futures demonstrates that the leading retail brands are those who are enabling clear and informed decisions about responsible purchasing, as well as developing engaging sustainability programmes that help consumers improve their daily lives and make a positive contribution to society.”

About Havas Media

Havas Media is the global media network of Havas. Havas Media represents one of the world’s fastest growing media networks and its agencies have grown from 10 markets in 1999 to 116 markets in 2010.

Havas Media services its clients through a portfolio of specialist global networks and agencies. The group is organised to maximise local market dynamics whilst leveraging the extensive global insight and strategic support within Havas Media. The range of companies within Havas Media include: MPG (Havas Media’s global media network), Arena Media (Havas Media’s network for tailor-made communication services), Havas Digital (Havas Media’s global interactive network) and Havas Sports & Entertainment (Havas Media’s global sports and entertainment communication network).

Further information can be found at


Havas Media
Suzie Warner
+44 (0)7968 450185
Helene Nice
+44 (0)20 7393 2533


Havas Media
Suzie Warner
+44 (0)7968 450185
Helene Nice
+44 (0)20 7393 2533