Images of an albatross feeding its chick plastic and a whale with a bucket caught in its mouth shocked worldwide viewers of Blue Planet 2, the documentary about our oceans. Plastic became Public Enemy Number One overnight. 

The UK Secretary of State for Environment, Chef Gordon Ramsey and the plastic industry were grilled on TV about how they could reduce plastic waste.  Pictures of a sea turtle with a straw in its nostril influenced restaurants to ditch plastic straws and they will be banned at Wimbledon.

But practically speaking, single-use plastic is ubiquitous and our food service and retail industries rely on plastic to deliver food and drink to consumers in a safe, practical way - until real alternatives are available, plastic is here to stay. 

Enter innovation and new product development.  Innovation is a risky business because our system 1 minds are pattern recognition machines and we are highly sensitive to loss.  We are biased towards the familiar, in this case, plastic.  As outraged as we are, changing our behaviour and giving up plastic is hard work.

System1 looked at 5 new products that have been launched or are soon to launch, all designed to reduce single-use plastic.  We tested these with 500 UK consumers using our Next Generation Predictive Markets:

  • Cup Club, a reusable cup service
  • Trio Cup, a one-piece cup with no plastic lid
  • Ocean friendly rings, edible multipack ring for cans
  • Just Eat Sachets, edible, biodegradable sauce sachets
  • MIWA, online groceries delivered without single-use packaging

What we found confirmed our fears – 3 were wasteful 1-star concepts – predicted to underperform in market. One idea, MIWA had was a 2-star idea and so would do slightly better than average.  The winning idea was Ocean friendly rings from Saltwater Brewery  - a solid 3 star idea predicted to sell 50% better than an average product launch if launched in the UK.  The idea generated high levels of happiness and most people said they would buy shares in the idea in our predictive market.

The building blocks of any successful new product, however, are feeling and fluency.  All of the ideas we tested fell short on fluency. 

Fluency is the ease with which people cognitively process stimulus – the faster people process an idea, the more likely they are to buy it.  While people are emotionally engaged with reducing plastic, they still struggle to process the alternatives.  Work needs to be done to make choosing alternatives easier.  This will come over time as public perceptions around plastic and litter change.  Campaigns such as Clean Up Britain’s “Litter kills” campaign, (produced by System1 Agency) will nudge people to change, but new product and packaging developers need to help consumers by making alternatives to plastic more fluent.

Find out more about our Innovation Testing methods here

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