The rise of conscious consumption during the pandemic

The current Coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the world as we knew it. Consumers attitudes, behaviours and purchasing habits are changing to reflect what we now value most and how we live and work. There is significant debate regarding what the pandemic means for consumption. Some argue that the pandemic has shown that it is possible to change radically and do it swiftly1 , while others sustain that social distancing and global lockdowns may be changing consumers for the better.

This crisis is modifying consumer behaviour in different ways, such as increasing awareness on food safety, health and origin. According to Professors Jay Simon and Ron Hill at American University’s Kogod School of Business, most consumers today care about where their products come from4.

The pandemic has motivated consumers to look at products and brands from a different perspective and is reshaping the consumer goods industry, accelerating the adoption of on-line shopping and other long-term underlying trends in the space of months. According to a recent study from McKinsey2, consumer attitudes about packaging have also changed significantly in 2020.

These factors are providing an additional boost to the trend of “conscious consumerism”, term that was coined in 1975, refers to the consumers that are sensitive to the public consequences of their private consumption and attempt to use their purchasing power to affect change5. This trend also represents an opportunity to achieve more long-term-focused, sustainable and fulfilling consumption patterns and is actually an example of altruism: the willingness to help others4. These costumers want to support ethical, sustainable, and environmentally-conscious businesses when possible and even if it comes to a higher price. This is an abrupt reversal of the modern-day trend of shopping conveniently and cheaply.4

A recent survey carried out for the creation of Boutique Exotics, indicated that almost half of the participants considered themselves conscious consumers, around 60% are already taking measures at home to reduce food waste and 68% declared themselves willing to receive more information about conscious consumption.

As shoppers become more educated and conscious, the value of solid sustainability concepts for the businesses is fundamental. Embedding sustainability and conscious consumption in a deep and meaningful way requires aligning, guiding, enabling and leading all key actors on the same course and journey. The different stakeholders are also increasingly recognising the environmental, social and economic opportunities to do things differently as part of recovery from Covid-19. Many of these trends will remain part of our post-pandemic world. This is a huge challenge for supply chains that will need to guarantee to the consumers the same quality and attributes pre- pandemic, while also incorporating some of the criteria that have become even more relevant during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic is also sparking a higher price sensitivity. Few customers can afford altruism long-term, specially under the current circumstances. Economic strain caused by furlough, job loss, and ongoing expenses means that more expensive options are no longer viable for an important share of the population4.  Therefore, even more than before, any change must guarantee synergies and efficiencies and not increase costs.

For these reasons, there is a growing expectation from consumers for companies (particularly those in developed countries) to do better. Businesses need to balance ethics with monetary gains, otherwise they will be willingly losing market share.4 

Covid-19 has demonstrated that no one can prosper alone. We need more global collaboration, also in terms of sustainability and conscious consumption. The private sector has in recent years shown higher levels of good will but is still far away from the scale and pace needed to create a new economic model in which all of society and planet Earth prospers.



1 Progressing Sustainability in the Context of Covid-19: Grasping the Opportunity 

2 Sustainability in packaging: Inside the minds of US consumers.

3Life Cycle Modelling of End-of-Life Products: Challenges and Opportunities towards a Circular Economy.

4 COVID-19: Business Must Meet Demand From Conscious Consumers.

5 Determining the Characteristics of the Socially Conscious Consumer.