Start-ups in every industry are changing the way we work, live and play – challenging the status quo and innovating to meet some of the greatest challenges of our time.
There are so many brilliant examples in consumer products and LONDON is alive with ideas: Fussy who have created refillable deodorants, Suri the first fully recyclable electric toothbrush, and us with our refillable, and reusable cleaning products where you just add effervescent tablets and fill with tap water at home.
For the innovators who bring these products to market, one of the biggest challenges is how to change ingrained consumer habits and behaviours with limited marketing budgets. This becomes all the more difficult with a cost of living crisis and macro economic turmoil. The danger in these circumstances is that innovation isn’t allowed to flourish, excessive greenwashing adds to the ‘noise’ for the consumer and the status quo prevails.
Now, more than ever, we don’t have the time to allow that to happen. Resetting our relationship with consumption and transitioning to a circular economy is vital if we’re to avoid the impending climate crisis. So, what can we do to weather the storm and keep our products front of mind in the current economic environment?
Firstly, distribution. Choice is power for consumers and innovative solutions with genuine impact need to be where consumers are shopping for them. Recent Kantar data shows 29% of UK consumers are ‘Eco Active’ (actively looking for better brands and products with plastic their primary concern) and with this figure forecast to grow to 60% by 2030, consumers will vote with their wallets when given the choice. So innovative brands need to be loud and unapologetic in fighting for listings with major retailers to make sure they’re giving shoppers the choice.
At times like these, most retailers will retreat to what they know – powerhouse, ‘cash cow’ brands that print money whilst tweaks to pack sizes and formats will be window dressed as “category innovation”. But let’s not forget the environmental commitments retailers have made publically. Morrisons announced plans to become the first “zero waste” supermarket by 2025, Sainsbury’s has committed to zero waste by 2035 and Tesco has pledged carbon neutral by 2035.
The only way they can meet these lofty public targets is by embracing newness and innovation and not falling into the trap of optimising for short-sighted quarterly commercial targets. If they do, when the economic cycle returns to stability and growth, they’ll be left behind by competitors who’ve taken longer term views, backed innovation and delivered on their commitments.
Lots of innovative eco brands also seem to be afraid of listing on Amazon for fear of damaging their brand or “eco-creds”. But with an estimated 13 million prime shoppers in the UK, in my view, innovative brands need an Amazon strategy. With rising D2C customer acquisition costs, Amazon provides a powerful distribution partner with unlimited shelf space and access to high intent shoppers. It’s a channel that can’t be ignored.
Secondly, price. It’s our job to make our innovations affordable and accessible and to bust the myth that more sustainable is more expensive. A product can’t be truly considered ‘game changing’ if only the top 1% of consumers can afford it. Sure, it’s challenging as a small brand with low quantities and high costs in a period of high inflation but making sustainability affordable is critical if we’re to drive large-scale behavioural change.
Thirdly, storytelling. Why is Tony’s Chocolonely one of the fastest growing food and drink brands in Europe? Because they’re incredible storytellers. Their brand lives and breathes its authentic purpose and communicates it so well to customers. “Slave Free Chocolate”, it resonates, who wouldn’t want to support that? So despite their semi-premium price point, they’re seeing a surge in demand as the cost of living crisis bites and consumers look for small luxuries and treats at home. Their brand purpose and storytelling is central to this. It’s the same reason why UK B Corps were estimated to be growing at 27x GDP in a recent survey.
Fourthly, hustle. Start ups need to be resourceful and plucky to win. At Homethings, we’ve had great success entering competitions and applying for government funding. For example, we entered and won The Times Earth ad fund which was 250k worth of ad spend; we’ve just won the Sky Zero Footprint Fund for sustainable businesses; we were chosen for the Amazon launchpad accelerator for sustainable brands giving us grant funding and office space; and we got grant funding from Innovate UK to create our unique powder to gel washing up liquid.
Businesses that are pioneering change need to stay focused and committed to the cause; as the world will be a better place with them it.