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Consumers are thinking more about sustainability when they buy food and drinks, new research has found. Shoppers now have a better understanding of the environmental impact of their purchases, and are increasingly factoring it in when choosing between products. They’re also paying more attention to nutrition, clean labels and food waste.
New research from food corporation Kerry has revealed that nearly half (49%) of shoppers are considering sustainability when it comes to food and drinks. In their survey of more than 14,000 shoppers across 18 countries, they found that people are expecting brands to take environmental and social responsibility more seriously.
“Typical associations with sustainability such as sustainable packaging and environmental preservation are now considered to be standard for many consumers,” said the report. Beyond the “minimum standard” for consumers would be brands that go further to tick the boxes in terms of nutrition as well.
Sustainability a top priority
Environmental concerns are becoming a top priority for shoppers, especially for those in “sustainability-mature markets”, such as the U.K. and France. Analysts say that it stems from a better understanding of the linkages between food choices, sustainability, and impacts on consumers’ lives.
In the survey, 84% of respondents said it is now important for all individuals to contribute to sustainability. However, nearly three-quarters of this group also said the ultimate responsibility lies with producers.
“These sustainability-minded consumers are actively seeking out food and beverage products that have a significantly positive impact on the planet,” commented Soumya Nair, Kerry insights director.
Nair added that these results reveal how “sustainability [is] a must-have rather than a differentiator among consumers.”
It should be noted that these results are only applicable to shoppers in North America, Europe, and Latin America. The survey did not involve participants in Asia or Africa.
Nutrition: the value-added differentiator
While environmental responsibility has become a baseline standard, brands that perform on nutrition and health on top of sustainability are those that stand out.
According to the research, shoppers are looking for products that contribute to personal health, nutrition, and other clean label claims like “locally sourced” or “organic”.
“Consumers expect companies to do more outside of issues such as sustainable packaging, carbon emissions, and water conservation,” explained Nair. “These findings have major implications for the food and drinks industry as we are clearly at a significant and critical moment regarding sustainable nutrition.”
It’s one of the reasons why even plant-based brands—many of them marketed as climate-friendly alternatives to animal products—have been slowly shifting towards clean label branding. Food tech giant Beyond Meat, for instance, recently reformulated its burger to contain lower levels of fat and calories.
Gen Z placing the onus on brands
Researchers at Kerry said that the interest around sustainability from brands differed across age groups. They identified older millennials—those born between 1980 to 1989—as the most engaged with environmental issues. According to the report, these are the “frontrunners” who are most active in terms of individual sustainability choices.
However, younger millennials and Gen Zs are classified as “followers” who are willing to act, but are placing far more of the responsibility on brands. While they are willing to take personal action, they are expecting manufacturers and governments to take the lead.
These findings align with previous research on Gen Z spending habits. A recent U.S. poll found that Gen Zs are conscious of brands’ social and environmental track record. They prefer brands that support the Black Lives Matter campaign, for instance, and expert companies to innovate more climate-friendly products.
Lead image courtesy of Pexels.