Monitor: Awareness is still growing, but upcycled products are an easy sell

As awareness of upcycling increases, consumers are willing to pay extra for goods made with ingredients that were diverted from the waste stream.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

February 3, 2023

3 Min Read
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Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, Feb. 3, 2023

As the world emerges from COVID-19, new challenges arise. In this feature, New Hope Network provides an ongoing update on those challenges and the opportunities they hold. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other week to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.

If entrants in New Hope’s NEXTY Awards competition are an indicator, the buzzword of the year at Natural Products Expo West 2023 will be “upcycled,” a term designating products made from ingredients rescued from the waste stream.

That buzzword status, however, raises a question: do consumers know what it is? And will they pay for it? The answers in new consumer research from New Hope’s NEXT Data & Insights team are encouraging. 

While only 41% of all shoppers called themselves familiar with the term, the percentage of natural channel shoppers who said they were familiar with upcycling was 61%, an impressive result for a term that began percolating through the natural products industry only in the last several years.

That awareness shows a robust capacity for sales when natural channel shoppers asked if they would pay more for products. A full 60% of natural channel shoppers said they were likely to pay more for products with an upcycled claim.

That percentage drops for 39% among all shoppers, roughly equal with the percentage who said they were familiar with the claim, but that may be why this survey is so encouraging. In both groups, the percentage of people familiar with the term and the percentage willing to pay more for such products were closely matched.

There can be no surer sign that “upcycled” is an easy sell. It’s an intuitive concept that aligns well with concerns about food waste. The fact that shoppers in the natural channel are more likely to be aware of upcycling and willing to pay more for products that can make that claim is no surprise. Such a concept will often find its first supporters in the natural channel  

consumers willing to pay more for upcycled products

The willingness to pay more matched so evenly with awareness of the term, even among total shoppers, suggests upcycling has the potential to resonate more clearly among consumers compared to claims like regenerative or fair trade that may seem overly complex to some consumers. In prior research conducted by New Hope Network in 2021, over 50% of consumers across all generations were willing to support efforts to reduce food waste. Upcycling as an answer to food waste has a simple solution that consumers can get behind.

Upcycling is simple. People get it.

A seal may make it even simpler. When asked if a seal certifying a product the video at the top here might be his best was made with upcycled materials would be a strong indicator of trust, 49% of all shoppers said yes. That may not sound like an impressive percentage, but given the low general awareness of upcycling, we’d call it very encouraging. The Upcycled Food Association was only founded in 2019 and awareness is still gaining momentum.

All of this is hopeful and aligns very well with the general value proposition of the natural products industry, but there is obviously cause for caution. Upcycled is just now getting out of the gate with consumers and care should be taken to make sure the meaning does not get lost in the market. We like the Upcycled Food Association for that reason, but brands and retailers need to focus on education so that consumers know what it means, what to expect and then hold those brands to the promise. It’s a simple concept but even simple definitions get stretched out of shape when the buzz behind the buzzword gets loud.

Visitors to New Hope Natural Products Expo West 2023 will see the word “upcycled” on countless booths. They should be prepared to ask questions at every one of those booths.

About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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