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The global coronavirus pandemic has led to a huge shift in consumer behaviour, from shopping online, to changing basket spend. Now it seems the pandemic could accelerate sustainable food trends, according to SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
The group says that recent reports show food transparency, eating for immunity and seeking out locally sourced ingredients are key factors for consumers today. And as the food and drinks sector attempts to recover from lockdown, it could provide numerous opportunities for fine food producers and independent retailers moving forward as the nation focuses on a green recovery.
“Given the sweeping change and extraordinary circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be easy for consumers to cast aside concerns for the environment and sustainability, but the pandemic has in fact highlighted the value of sustainable food systems, our natural economy and of green technologies,” Alistair Trail of SAC Consulting’s Food & Drink team said.
“We are seeing rising consumer interest in buying healthy, nutritious food produced with minimal impact on the environment. There is an opportunity here to channel the significant resources needed to get the economy back on track in a way that is consistent with the transition to a more sustainable future.”
In a recent interview with the head of sustainability at consumer foods company Kerry Group, Juan Aguiriano explained that the key trends emerging post-pandemic are food safety, trust and transparency. According to the group, three-quarters of consumers want to know more about the safety of their food, whilst 51% are keen to understand more about what is in their food. What’s more, 48% of consumers would be willing to spend more for local food, and brands that focus on provenance and local supply chains. With environmental sustainability a key topic at the moment, a record-high 50% of consumers are looking to make more responsible choices when it comes to food, too, a trend that has been accelerated by COVID-19. It presents increasing opportunities for fine food producers and indie retailers, where provenance has long been a USP.
Aside from an increased awareness of sustainability, consumers are apparently becoming more aware of the impact that the food we eat has on our health. According to SAC Consulting, where consumers may previously have sought out vitamins, supplements, health shots and nutritional bars, they now look to incorporate immunity-boosting foods and food products into their diet. The rising trend has led to companies creating everything from drinks containing sea buckthorn, to savoury biscuits made with vitamin-packed seaweed.
Looking ahead, Alistair notes that a key challenge for the industry will be balancing these growing consumer interests and behaviours with affordability and cost: “The COVID-19 emergency is causing an economic crisis, so it is important that these products are no longer niche and are affordable to the general population,” he said. “Manufacturers can make great-tasting, healthy food economical by taking a different distribution model than the one traditionally used by the health food market.”
Creating a more sustainable future extends into the wider community, too. Another key factor will be ensuring disadvantaged people are also given access to nutritious and sustainably produced foods, whilst procuring nutritious meals based on local, seasonal and sustainable raw ingredients throughout public buildings, hospitals and schools.
“This kind of joined-up approach should lay the foundations for a fundamental rethink of our food system,” Alistair said. “If we are to build a truly sustainable food future, the best evidence shows we must shift to a more sustainable and circular economy.”
The recent reports form part of a wider consensus around a green recovery, which with the right support and investment, could help future-proof the UK’s food industry for a healthier and more sustainable future.