This paper introduces the concept of product essentiality within sustainable operations management studies. It investigates the influence of location, gender, and family income on the perception of essentiality of ordinary goods and services. A total of 81 items, were classified according to a binary position of ‘essential’ or ‘superfluous’ by business students in both Brazil and UK. The results show there is no significant difference in perception either concerning gender or income in both countries. The only aspect that shapes the essentiality perception is culture. Our study contributes to the debates on operations sustainability and design of sustainable products and processes.