New opportunities for (organic) retail – a profile of four retail trends
How should the market position itself to reach the consumer of tomorrow? Retail futurologist Theresa Schleicher has produced a “Study of the Retail Future 2024”, showing how brands can focus effectively on the future.
Inflation and a shortage of skilled workers: the two big challenges facing retail in general, including organic retail especially. On top of that, consumers’ expectations are steadily rising – they’re looking more and more for sustainable options. That’s the starting point for working out the current trends in retail. “The retail trends we’ve defined can provide very effective orientation for dynamic retail markets,” explains retail futurologist Theresa Schleicher in her Retail Report 20231. And her new “Study of the Retail Future 20242” portrays the core retail trends for the coming year. Her general finding: “The future of the market lies in regenerative growth.”
A profile of four selected retail trends for 2024:
1. Regenerative business models – Giving more than you take
Regenerative business models take sustainable, circular action a step farther. Not only do they keep the environmental impact of their operations as low as possible, but they generate positive effects. It’s not enough any more to plant a few trees as compensation. What’s needed instead is to handle resources and materials properly, and to produce in a way that rebuilds ecosystems as part of a loop. For instance, the ingredients in everyday goods and beauty products can do their part to regenerate ecosystems like coral reefs.
2. Online retail – A slowdown ahead
Over the past ten years, online retail has been driven by immense growth and hyper-convenience, but in times of regenerative growth it will become slower, higher-value, and thus more focussed, especially economically. Schleicher explains, “The principle of ‘cheaper online’ is slowly running up against its limits in e-commerce. Growth is stagnating. What online retail is going to need most of all in the future is a deceleration. What’s going to be important is good products and transparent, more sustainable delivery times. Also education about production and social innovations, like a clear use of reusable, unpackaged, or regional products.
3. The “new regional” – Diversity and variety in bricks-and-mortar retail
Regional production and local products are the core of sustainable action for many customers. And that’s got nothing to do with “making do without”. International reach and culturally novel tastes are still possible here. Because as diversity rises in both the consumer and the labour market in Germany and Austria, so will demand for international products. That will give rise to new, sustainably regional influences. Ginger from Bavaria or quinoa from the Rhineland are compatible with expectations for sustainable, diverse consumption.
4. “Zero Waste Design” – Less is more
The packaging industry is undergoing a transformation. Policy-setting laws like the new one that makes recyclable packaging mandatory are changing consumer awareness, and are intended to reduce packaging waste. A Greenpeace-based survey in Schleicher’s study shows that food retailers in particular and brand-name suppliers in many categories can dispense with 70 to 90 percent of their packaging. But the future won’t be a matter of merely reducing packaging – it will call for a holistic, circularly focussed approach that incorporates everything from product design to sale to returns. The biggest challenge so far: getting return and reuse systems aligned with consumers’ everyday lives. Schleicher explains, “That’s partly because consumers have been learning ‘take-away’ habits for decades – it was convenient. And now they have to get used to bringing their own mug or container, or paying a deposit for one. Change takes us out of our comfort zone, and it takes time. On top of that, there’s no smart, uniform solution yet that would enable people just to return containers – the way we already do for bottles – at lots of places like supermarkets, railroad stations, shopping centres, or pedestrian zones. And that’s also reflected in the main obstacles for customers. They’re left uncomfortable by the lack of standards and too few return options, so that they have to carry the containers around even after they’re through with them. On top of that, there are the overly high prices for packaging and for refillable products, which have an even more expensive price per kilo in some retail sectors than disposably packaged products.
All these projected trends have one conspicuous trait in common: first and foremost, consumers are want Less. Less space, less products, less retailers. The focus here is on reducing waste, packaging, and overproduction, and on developing new, circularly conceived products and services that not only can be recycled easily and conserve resources, but even rebuild ecosystems. If organic retail can align itself with these trends, it will have a good chance of reaching the consumers of tomorrow.
3 questions for …
Futurologist, author and expert on (organic) retail
“Organic products and sustainability are going to be the highest, most existential priority”