thyssenkrupp Rasselstein examines changing consumer behaviour

Image: thyssenkrupp Rasselstein

Recent years have seen fundamental shifts in the global economy and the availability of goods, leading to increased economic uncertainty and alterations in consumer purchasing habits. In response, German tinplate manufacturer, thyssenkrupp Rasselstein, commissioned opinion research institute, Norstat, to examine the evolving consumer behaviours since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, with a particular focus on food packaging. The study surveyed a representative sample of 7,042 individuals across seven European countries – Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the UK, Sweden, and Poland – in October 2023.

“The survey results reveal a significant shift in consumer shopping behaviors compared to just a few years ago. Consumers are now stockpiling goods and favouring deliberate purchases over spontaneous impulse buying. Additionally, attitudes towards food packaging have evolved. Tinplate food cans have gained a more permanent spot in consumer pantries and are regarded as more sustainable and practical than before the crisis. In contrast, the demand for other packaging materials such as plastic and aluminium has decreased,” said Nicole Korb, manager for product communications at thyssenkrupp Rasselstein.

Increased stockpiling by European consumers

In recent years, due to sporadic shortages and limited availability of various goods across many European countries, more consumers have been adopting a long-term outlook and increasingly stockpiling food. Approximately one-third of respondents (31%) report they are now stockpiling more food than before, with this figure rising to 44% in Spain. “Recurrent supply chain issues have resulted in intermittent availability of certain food items. Stockpiling not only serves as a prudent measure but also offers financial benefits, allowing consumers to purchase in bulk during price fluctuations to mitigate potential future price increases,” explained Korb.

The data reveals a shift towards more deliberate and planned grocery shopping habits among consumers. One in four individuals now makes fewer spontaneous purchases, with a significant 56% being more price-conscious compared to previous years. This trend is especially pronounced in France and Spain, where spontaneous buying occurs far less frequently than the average – 28% and 32% respectively.

“Consumers are moving away from impulsive buys driven by immediate desire. Instead, they are focusing on bulk purchases and replenishing their food supplies rather than making quick trips to the supermarket for immediate meals,” Korb added. Additionally, there is a notable increase in self-catering, with 36% of consumers dining out less and cooking more at home, making grocery shopping a more critical task.

Tinplate wins over consumers in various European countries

Consumer awareness about food packaging choices has evolved, as indicated by the survey, which shows an increased preference for tinplate packaging. 14% of consumers now purchase more food cans than before the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine. While the majority, 72%, maintain their usual purchasing levels of canned goods, significant variations are observed across different countries. For instance, in Spain, nearly a quarter (24%) of the population is buying more canned food, while in the UK, this figure is 15%. Overall, a robust 86% of respondents report buying the same amount or more food in tin cans compared to previous years.

The survey findings also align with the trends in stockpiling behaviour. Consumers who accumulate more food tend to prefer tinplate packaging, appreciating the stackable design of cans which maximises storage space. The material’s impermeability to light helps preserve both the nutritional value and flavour of its contents, making it ideal for long-term food storage. Reflecting these advantages, over half of the respondents (54%) acknowledge that food cans are convenient to store. In Germany, 65% of shoppers, and in France, 60%, agree that cans store well. Additionally, one-third of all consumers (33%) find cans more practical, with this sentiment shared by 40% of Italian and 41% of Spanish consumers.

Tinplate is increasingly recognised by consumers for its sustainability; 15% more view it as sustainable compared to 2020. In France, nearly one in four consumers (24%) believe in its sustainable qualities, with Sweden reporting a notably higher appreciation at 29%. Furthermore, the material is praised for its recyclability: 16% of consumers acknowledge its improved recyclability over recent years, with almost one-third (30%) in the UK convinced of its recyclable benefits. “And rightly so,” stated Korb, “considering that Germany boasts a tinplate recycling rate consistently above 90% and the EU averages at 78.5%. Tinplate recycling not only conserves resources but also significantly reduces CO2 emissions compared to primary production.” Recycling a tonne of steel and iron scrap saves 1.6 tonnes of iron ore, 0.65 tonnes of coal, and 0.3 tonnes of limestone, while using scrap in steel production consumes up to 70% less energy than primary production.

The survey highlights that packaging is increasingly influencing consumer purchasing decisions. 15% of respondents now more frequently make conscious choices based on packaging type, compared to just 9% percent who do so less often. As a result, consumers are opting for tinplate over materials like plastic and aluminium. In fact, 19% of Europeans, 22% in France, and 34% in Spain are more likely to choose tinplate cans. In contrast, only 10% of consumers report an increased preference for food in plastic or aluminium packaging.

“Over the past few years, consumers have come to value practicality, sustainability, and recyclability in packaging materials,” explained Korb. “Tinplate stands out not only due to its advantageous properties but also due to the practical design of the cans, which resonate well with consumers.”

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