A recent report entitled “Sustainability in a Pandemic” from C.O. nxt., formerly known as Charleston Orwig, and Menu Matters finds that customers in the United States are increasingly concerned with the social and economic impacts of their purchases.
C.O. nxt. is a communications agency for food and agricultural businesses, and Menu Matters is a leading consultancy that evaluates and leverages food, consumer, and operator trends. Together, they conducted a study to understand the impacts of the pandemic on consumer’s expectations and demands with food and sustainability. The online survey polled 750 U.S. residents, who shared their perspectives on sustainability and how it factors into their purchasing choices.
“In addition to COVID-19, events and protests in 2020 spurred a much greater awareness and understanding about justice.” Mark Gale, chief growth officer of C.O nxt. tells Food Tank. More consumers are looking for businesses that prioritize fair pay, animal welfare, gender equality, and diversity in the workforce.
The study finds that 46 percent of participants believe that sustainability is tied to more than environmental health, but also includes social and economic wellbeing. A majority of the respondents say they are now more concerned about farm workers’ safety and their ability to make a living than they were at the start of the pandemic.
Recognizing that fair conditions may raise the price of their food, more than half of respondents say they are willing to pay more to help bring about these changes. While this is true for all age groups, those belonging to Gen Z are the most willing to accept higher prices. “I think that the generation has a far more holistic understanding of society, its issues, and the role businesses, and the economy plays in those problems,” Maeve Webster, founder and president of Menu Matters, tells Food Tank.
The report also finds that consumers tend to trust the sustainability statements about a business’s products and operations, especially those made by smaller operators, such as restaurants and small supermarkets. To have a greater impact, however, Gale says that businesses should detail how their practices are sustainable.
“Be specific. Be transparent. Set measurable goals and report on progress. Sustainability is not just about arriving at the destination,” Gale tells Food Tank. “It is about making continual progress toward achieving goals. Once those goals are achieved, set new ones.”
As the vaccination rollout continues and consumers have the ability to resume normal activities, Gale believes that the emphasis on sustainability will continue to shape purchasing behaviors. “Consumers are really thinking about their food in bigger terms,” Gale tells Food Tank. “They are increasingly placing additional scrutiny on food. Everyone working in the food system should have this on their minds as they look toward the future.”