In this Global Insight piece, we investigate and deliberate the extent to which sustainability is a driving force behind consumer behaviour.
Sustainability is one of those buzzwords that has been dominating rhetoric ever since David Attenborough set up camp in the world’s homes and hearts. Unfortunately, there have also been other factors, namely inclement weather patterns, food shortages and price rises, that are also bringing the climate crisis to the fore. With the climate crisis and food inextricably linked, it is inevitable that the effects trickle down and shape consumer decisions.
In a recent First Insight survey, 68% of respondents said that they were prepared to pay more for sustainable products and 72% acknowledged that it was an important purchasing consideration1. Sustainability is driving consumers’ food choices and opinions and we look at how this movement has brought about a new vision on meat consumption, a U-turn towards more traditional, local eating habits and how it is affecting consumers directly at the point of purchase.
Meat consumption and production have a very high environmental and carbon footprint and therefore it is increasingly considered an unsustainable food choice. This is one of the key factors driving the plant-based revolutions with a 17% fall in meat consumption2 in the UK in the past decade and many consumers citing environmental reasons for their reduction. However, people are becoming increasingly savvy about the sustainability of various products. Whilst plant-based was exploding, we have seen this area plateau, with consumers preferring seasonal and local produce that has a lower impact on the environment than some plant-based alternatives. This has been encouraged recently by the war in Ukraine, and recent extreme weather patterns globally, exacerbating the pressures on the food industry and driving up prices. While plant-based alternatives are still more expensive than their meat-based counterparts, consumers will be thinking frugally and look for sustainable alternatives closer to home.
Sustainability has also shaped consumers’ preferences at the point of purchase, especially with plastic and food waste. Packaging is becoming an important purchasing decision factor for socially aware consumers. With 16% of consumers3 admitting to only making sustainable choices as a means of social signalling, reducing plastic is an easy way to visually signal your support for the environment. Likewise, while food waste becomes increasingly important to consumers for both environmental and fiscal reasons, products that can offer longevity through their packaging are preferable to consumers. Companies that can offer consumers limited plastic and product shelf life will come out on top and those that fail to respond to the shift in consumer behaviour will lose out.
We have also seen that consumers’ occupation with sustainability has led to a trend of upcycling in the food industry. We waste approximately 30% of the total food produced4 and we are not just wasting the food, but the time, water, energy, land, and labour that went into creating our food products. Both consumers and producers are therefore looking for food to work smarter rather than harder. This has resulted in an immense number of companies upcycling food waste- think wonky fruit and veg for juices and spreads, and leftover brewers’ cereals for cereal bars.
It is arguable that the climate crisis started this movement, but it is the consumer’s positive and popular response that has allowed this movement to grow.
Singapore – NewBrew
Using ‘NewWater’ this hot new craft beer uses Singapore’s own brand of ultra-recycled water. It was immediately a sell-out in restaurants and bars where it was stocked. This new brew is undoubtedly a hit with customers.
United Kingdom – Rubies in the Rubble
Making condiments with ingredients that would otherwise go to waste. They are now one of the leading brands in the UK for vegan and sustainable condiments.
NZ – Upcycled Grain Project
Nominated for NZs Food Award for sustainability, they take the spelt grain left over from brewing and use it to make their crackers. They want to make sure nothing is going to waste.
Australia – Raw Bulk Foods Online
Australian start-up that sources Australian pantry staples direct from Australian farmers. Aimed at tackling plastic and waste at every step of the supply chain. From compostable bulk bags to ocean waste plastic bins and upcycled glass with recycled bamboo lids, there is no waste happening here!
References: 1. Fruit D’Or. (2021). ‘First Insight Survey’. Available at: https://d12v9rtnomnebu.cloudfront.net/paychek/HowBrandsandSuppliersAreBuildingSustainableSolutions.pdf (Accessed 24th September 2022). 2. Gill, V. (2021). ‘UK public now eating significantly more meat’, BBC News Online, 8th October. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-58831636 (Accessed 25th September 2022). 3. Gelski, J. (2022). ‘Consumer interest in sustainability higher than retailers believe’, Food Business News, 19th January. Available at: https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/20461-consumer-interest-in-sustainability-higher-than-retailers-believe#:~:text=Thirty%2Dfour%20percent%20said%20they,important%20purchase%20consideration%20for%20consumers (Accessed 1st October 2022). 4. Grasso, S. (2020). ‘The untapped value in upcycled food by-products’. Available at: https://research.reading.ac.uk/research-blog/the-untapped-value-in-upcycled-food-by-products/ (Accessed on 24th September 2022)
Please note, we are not affiliated, associated, or in any way officially connected with the brands and products mentioned within this post.