Bulk purchasing in Spain

Category: Sustainability, study, strategy

Bulk purchasing in Spain - The Cocktail

The overuse of plastic is an environmental scourge that requires urgent action. Despite increasing recycling efforts, a strategy to reduce single-use plastic in consumer chains is needed to help solve this emergency and challenge the linear approach to the economy. The study “Bulk purchasing in Spain”, developed by Neture Impact, provides some keys to meet this challenge after analyzing the habits and preferences of more than 1,000 consumers.

Currently, the system is dependent on this material for its key characteristics in the development of the current consumption model: durability, versatility, low price... However, its excessive use causes serious effects on the environment, the economy and health. For 70% of Spaniards, buying in bulk is presented as an effective alternative to reduce single-use plastics that are used in products that have no special conservation needs.

Consumer involvement is fundamental to the promotion of more sustainable purchasing patterns. This study has analyzed their opinions in detail and has yielded five key conclusions:

  1. Users fail brands and department stores when it comes to sustainability. This is because 81% of respondents believe that current distributors abuse plastic in their supply chains. 
  2. Buying in bulk is presented as a consensus alternative in terms of circularity. 
  3. The supply side is at the center of the change. Most consumers would buy in bulk if these products were more widely available. 
  4. The loss of packaging eliminates the main consumer relationship touchpoint, making it difficult to understand the relevant product information. 
  5.  The penetration of buying in bulk beyond the food sector is negligible.

Buying in bulk is presented as a consensus alternative in terms of circularity

The Spanish consumer facing the challenge of plastic

In general terms, Spanish consumers show a high level of concern for sustainability. Sixty-six percent consider themselves aware and 65% say they are willing to change their habits to make them more environmentally friendly.

In addition, more than 40% of consumers say they are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products.

40% of consumers say they are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products

Although the orientation towards this type of purchase is variable and gives rise to three groups of consumers:

  1. Disconnected consumers (40,3%): those who consider that brands abuse plastics, but do not value bulk purchasing as a more sustainable option and prefer packaged products. This is a male-dominated segment with a greater presence of Generation Z. 
  2. Pragmatic consumers (31,2%): This segment says that buying in bulk is a more sustainable option and that brands abuse plastic, but in the end they opt for packaged products for reasons of hygiene. Couples with children and a preference for large supermarkets belong to this group. 
  3. Green consumers (28,5%): are committed to buying in bulk, as they consider it to be sustainable, as well as avoiding large supermarkets because of their packaging policy for fruit and vegetables. This is a very feminized segment with a high level of education and brand loyalty.

State of bulk consumption in Spain

Bulk purchase penetration varies significantly based on the type of product category.

Perishable foods are the only ones in which bulk purchases exceed the purchase of prepackaged foods (95% of users buy foods in this category in bulk), especially for recurring products in the basket, such as fruits and vegetables, breads, fish, etc.

Dry non-perishables have a higher propensity to buy in bulk, although it is still residual (54%). In some categories such as jelly beans, pulses and nuts, the proportion of people choosing bulk increases considerably. These preferences are influenced by the availability of products in stores.

Personal hygiene, aesthetics, household cleaning and gardening items are still categories in which bulk purchasing is not very relevant (14%), but if both options were available, the preference for bulk would increase considerably.

Another aspect to be taken into account is the need to transform the packaging model of large supermarkets so that bulk purchasing is truly sustainable. Ninety-four percent of consumers use the packaging offered by the stores, but only 31% say that this packaging is biodegradable. In addition, the use of own packaging is not very widespread and is relegated to certain categories such as fruit, vegetables and bakery products.

Bulk model acceleration levers

To drive the growth of this type of purchase, it is necessary to listen to the consumer, to know their habits and their thoughts.

The main motivations of users when opting for this type of purchase are:

- "I buy of the amount needed" → 75%.
- "Waste and plastics are reduced" → 58%.
- "I have control over the product I buy" → 44%
- "I save money and get better prices" → 41%

But there are also barriers that need to be analyzed in order to establish actions to overcome them:

- "Information about the product is limited" → 46%.
- "I think there is less hygiene due to exposure" → 45%
- "I doubt the conservation in the distribution" → 37%
- "Product maintenance (since purchase)" → 29%.

Likewise, consumers point to different initiatives that would encourage them to buy in bulk. Half of the users highlight that "discounts, promotions or tax rebates" would be levers that would favor their predisposition for this model. They would also like to have more information about the product (42%), actions to better protect the products (40%) and that these are only handled by store personnel (38%).

This study provides a good forecast for the bulk purchase model, but it shows the need to establish immediate actions from the distributors' point of view (provide more information, give incentives, ensure hygiene standards, etc.) and the need to involve the consumer to trigger a real change in their habits (use of their own recyclable packaging, better purchase planning, etc.).

“Although the presence of packaged products still dominates, plastic awareness is growing and bulk purchasing is emerging as the symbol of this new consumer awareness”, explains Xavier Vallés, Managing Director of Neture Impact.