Think before you pack

Consumer beliefs about sustainable packaging differ significantly from reality. Dr Nigel Steenis suggests manufacturers think extremely carefully about consumer perception before market launch. Steenis successfully defended his PhD thesis, at Wageningen University & Research, November 5th 2019.

Following his Master in Management, Economics and Consumer studies, achieved five years ago, Steenis saw a PhD as “the perfect pathway to continuing his development in this field.” Shortly after graduating, he became aware of an interesting vacancy at TiFN and applied immediately. “As a marketing researcher, TiFN’s unique combination of scientific excellence and industrial relevance really appealed to me.”

Predicting consumer responses
Steenis and his project team looked at the impact of sustainable design on consumer responses. “Sustainable design can have positive and negative effects, depending on the type of product and even the way in which it is marketed”, he says. “We were the first to analyse these responses using an approach that connects sustainable packaging design with marketing and consumer behaviour.”

The scientists found, for example, that consumers tend to underestimate the power of laundry detergents when they used sustainable packaging design aesthetics. However, when consumers seek out mild detergents a sustainable appearance has a positive effect on consumer perception. Furthermore, when looking at various soup-packaging types, an inverse correlation was noted between consumer perception and true environmental impact. “Consumers believe that glass jars and bioplastics are more sustainable than cans and mainstream plastics”, he illustrates. “But actually the technical analysis suggests that the reverse is true, at least in this case.”

Independent scientist
Steenis looks back on his PhD experience enthusiastically. “I have learned to set up and carry out a research project independently, from the outline of a research proposal to convincing project partners and getting scientific papers published”, he says. “I am proud that, as a young scientist, I persevered and successfully completed the project.”

Now, five years later, Steenis has become the expert that he hoped to be. “Companies and research institutes around the world are inviting me to contribute to their sustainable design processes.”

Valuable skills
The marketeer will continue his career at the Dutch health insurer VGZ. “I will investigate consumer behaviour in order to optimize their products and services. “I am sure my expertise, as well as the management, advisory and dialogue skills, I developed as a PhD candidate, will be very valuable in my new job.”

Want to know more about Steenis’ work? Click here.