7 facts the food sector should know about sustainability

05 August 2021, 07:58 AM
  • Discover how to cater to consumers’ latest demands around environmentally friendly and ethical food and drink
7 facts the food sector should know about sustainability

With more and more consumers motivated to shop consciously, fine food retailers, wholesalers and producers all have an important role to play in offering sustainable options for their customers. Speciality Food looks at the latest data on sustainability trends to discover where the biggest opportunities lie.

1. Sustainability is the fastest-growing purchase consideration

The number of people buying food and drink based on the product’s sustainability credentials has spiked, rising 25% in the last two years, according to a report commissioned by Ecotone UK.

Price and quality are still the biggest considerations when grocery shopping, but these have fallen over the past two years by 10% and 17% respectively. Two-thirds of consumers say they would pay more for sustainable goods in at least one category of groceries, according to the survey, and 40% of consumers consider themselves ‘sustainable shoppers’.

2. Covid has boosted demand for greener food and drink

The pandemic has caused sweeping changes in consumers’ shopping habits, and Covid-19 has influenced priorities around shopping sustainably, too. More than a third of consumers say Covid-19 and lockdown have given them more time to think about buying ethical and sustainable groceries, according to Ecotone’s report. This was the same number of people who said they were prompted to shop sustainably by David Attenborough’s documentaries.

3. Health and sustainability are linked

For many consumers, the issues of ‘healthy food’ and ‘good for the environment’ are becoming synonymous, according to data and analytics company GlobalData. The group’s consumer surveys found health and wellbeing were key drivers for purchases for 45% of UK consumers, while more than two-thirds of UK consumers found sustainably or ethically sourced ingredients appealing.

“Where personal motivation to lose weight or eat healthier has fallen flat, particularly regarding weight management as terms like ‘bikini body’ have come under fire for negative connotations, the desire to support a wider, global issue is stronger than ever; and, with the right communication, the message that healthier eating also helps environmental issues could give healthy eating measures an extra boost,” said Jenny Questier, senior consumer analyst at GlobalData.

4. Recycling is a top priority for sustainable consumers

The recyclability of food and drink packaging plays an important role in whether a consumer will pick up a product from the shelf. Indeed, the top three small actions consumers are personally taking to protect nature, according to Ecotone, are recycling more (78%), using less single-use plastic (61%) and eating less meat and dairy (32%). For producers, this means ensuring products are wrapped up in the most sustainable packaging possible, and for retailers this points to the importance of buyers considering packaging as well as product.

5. Greenwashing remains a problem for the industry

Greenwashing, when businesses make themselves look more environmentally friendly than they really are, will be a growing issue as more consumers demand greener products, warns Bryan Martins, marketing and category director at Ecotone UK. “Supply chains must be made transparent, allowing shoppers to make informed choices about what they put in their baskets. We should promote and champion more sustainable means of cultivation and benefits of certain crops, like organic, that are better for the planet and can help to support biodiversity.” 

6. There’s an education gap in seasonal produce

A poll from UK & Ireland Mushroom Producers has revealed that fewer than half of Brits know when some of the UK’s most well-known fruit and vegetables are in season, despite 63% of those surveyed wanting to shop seasonally in a bid to reduce their carbon footprint. This offers retailers an opportunity to help customers understand when seasonal, local produce can be best enjoyed.

7. Sustainable demand inspires new product launches

Nearly half of all new coffee products that were launched in 2020 carried an ethical or environmental claim, nearly double the number from almost a decade ago. According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, the coffee sector is ahead of the total food and drink market, where just 35% of new product launches carry a sustainable claim in Europe, compared with 64% of coffee launches in the region.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of carbon emissions and coffee is one of the worst offenders,” said Jonny Forsyth, associate director, Mintel Food & Drink. “The more activist-minded younger generation will show less tolerance for waste, especially [coffee] pods that are recyclable but rarely recycled, with launches of ‘greener’ pods expected to grow fast.” Brands will need to be more “hands on” and put their sustainable values and actions at the heart of their brand message going forward, he added.

As shopping priorities quickly shift towards more ethical and sustainable demands, retailers, suppliers and wholesalers must stay at the forefront of demand in order to win customer loyalty.

Want more tips for super-charging your sustainability credentials? Join Too Good To Go and Speciality Food for Sustainable Food Month in October – learn more here.

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