Executive Briefing

What happens to sustainability and ‘clean’ consumption after all this?

Covid-19 has changed how and what what we buy. Will it change why we buy?

Blueland CEO Sarah Paiji Yoo
Blueland CEO Sarah Paiji Yoo / Courtesy Blueland

It should come as no surprise that sales of household cleaning products, including soaps, disinfectants, sprays, and wipes, have accelerated dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Overall, household cleaner and supply sales in US retail stores during the week ending March 21 were up almost 100% year over year, as measured by Nielsen. That’s a big spike compared to what had been the previous trendline: In 2019, retail sales of “branded” household cleaner and supply products declined 1.5% on the year and private label sales grew 16%.

Looking at specific product categories over the four-week period ending March 21, aerosol disinfectant and hand sanitizer sales roughly quadrupled year over year, and sales of both multi-purpose cleaners and bath and shower wipes more than doubled, according to Nielsen. There’s been similar growth in e-commerce as well, according to Stackline, which published this great data set.

Chart of the Day

What are we buying more of? Chart

That makes sense! But I’m curious how this all dovetails with one of the other big, recent trends in consumer goods, before Covid-19 flipped everything upside-down: The inescapable narrative of “sustainability,” from the ingredients to the manufacturing to the container to the packaging.

  • Are people favoring the environment — and eco-conscious brands and formats — when making these purchases right now?
  • Or with limited supply and assortment — try finding Clorox wipes anywhere! — are they just buying whatever is available?
  • Or has this driven a shift back toward legacy cleaner brands and harsher ingredients that — whether perception or reality — might work better?

(As Claire Mazur, e-commerce founder-turned-podcaster-and-newsletterer-extraordinaire, recently messaged after a grocery run, “the all-natural ones are the only ones left because people want the harsh shit in these times!”)

And, then, what happens after this?

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Dan Frommer

Hi, I’m Dan Frommer and this is The New Consumer, a publication about how and why people spend their time and money.

I’m a longtime tech and business journalist, and I’m excited to focus my attention on how technology continues to profoundly change how things are created, experienced, bought, and sold. The New Consumer is supported entirely by your membership — join now to receive my reporting, analysis, and commentary directly in your inbox, via my twice-weekly, member-exclusive newsletter. Thanks in advance.

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