New consumer trends shaping sustainable investments during Covid 19

How will consumer trends arising after the 1st wave of COVID 19 somehow shape  sustainable investments?




The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed every aspect of our daily lives in a historically short period of time. In particular, the economic shutdown in many countries has induced a decline in consumer spending and many disruptions of supply chains, making it key for businesses to adapt to survive.  

In that context, sustainability could well become “the next digital”, as stated by Bain & Company, ensuring a lasting business advantage to companies adopting firm sustainability priorities during the pandemic.

However, we may ask ourselves if sustainable trends will be resilient in the face of short-term cash flow management issues to deal with the ongoing crisis. 

 

 

With 80% of sales relying on offline channels, the fashion industry has been strongly impacted by store closure measures taken across all countries. According to an April 2020 BCG study, the fashion industry has seen a global decrease in sales of 60-70% between April and May 2020[1].

However, the pandemic does not seem to challenge the value of sustainability for fashion brands. To the contrary, consumer expectations highlight sustainability as a key purchasing criteria, with consumers buying less but focusing on products associated with trust, well-being and collective good. 

The online fashion retailer Zalando has for instance witnessed a surge in the share of consumers buying more sustainable fashion from 20% in Q1 2020 to 40% in Q3 2020[2].   

 

Sustainability director at Zalando Kate Heiny explains: “Our sustainability ambitions will help us stay ahead of customer demand after this crisis caused by the coronavirus. Both our current and future customer base are calling for more sustainable choices in fashion. (…) By committing to sustainability, we can secure our long-term growth, stay relevant to our customers and establish market-leading differentiation against our competitors”

Given this shift of consumer preferences towards more sustainable product offerings, we may wonder how this change is reflected in investment patterns. According to Crunchbase, Venture Capital deals in general decreased by 44% from March to June compared to 2019. Will sustainable investments be more resilient?

 

 

Even though it might still be too early to predict the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on sustainable investments trends, some tendencies for particular industries can be identified.

 

There is uncertainty on whether or not particular trends will be resilient but there are still some investment opportunities for sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs.


Industries such as Foodtech have proven particularly dynamic in terms of investments. For instance, urban farming leaders Plenty and InFarm have recently raised respectively $140M and $170M. The plant-based food company LIVEKINDLY Collective has also raised a total of $335M in 2020.

 

 

Accounting for €1.6B in 2019, food delivery services investments are expected to grow according to DigitalFoodLab. In particular, marketplaces are gaining importance within the last mile delivery field, as they enable brick-and-mortar businesses new access to online sales channels.

 


 More broadly, startups such as Shopify, which help small and medium-sized businesses build their own online stores, have strongly benefited from the need for businesses to quickly shift their sales strategy to online. Between April and July 2020, Shopify has therefore seen a +185% increase of its share price.

 

Governments aim at a sustainable economic recovery, even though the financial effort involved varies from country to country.

 

While we are still in the midst of the crisis, the approach aiming at a sustainable economic recovery requires governmental financial intervention policy and programs supporting sustainable investments. As of June, the International Monetary Fund responded to the COVID-19 crisis with an unprecedented fiscal policy response of $11 trillion worldwide. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, the will to build back greener economies depends on the countries.

 

As part of the Green Deal, - a climate law implemented by the EU Commission in March 2020 aiming at a carbon neutral EU by 2050 - the EU has 20% of their stimulus spending to green projects[3]. Regarding the other world’s largest economies such as the US, China or India, they have limited their stimulus spending towards green actions at around 1-3%. Thus, while the EU dedicated $249 billion to green spending, the US only allocated $26 billion to a green recovery. 

Therefore, we can only expect strong disparities between countries when it comes to a sustainable economic recovery.

 To conclude, the pandemic seemed to have triggered a shift towards more sustainable consumption patterns. While it’s too early to evaluate the long-term resilience of sustainable investments, we can already observe investments flows directed towards high-growth potential industries such as Food Tech. Moreover, the use of the stimulus towards sustainable economic recovery will also incentivize (or not in some cases) future potential sustainable investments.

 



[1] Rebuilding a more sustainable fashion industry after COVID-19, BCG, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Higg Co, April 2020

[2] “Zalando sees growth in more sustainable fashion assortment”, Zalando website, October 2020

[3] It’s not easy being green: Stimulus spending in the world’s major economies, Rhodium Group report, September 2020