HARTLAND, WIS. — The pandemic hasn’t shaken consumer interest in food sustainability, according to a new poll from C.O.nxt and Menu Matters.
The companies surveyed 750 consumers across the United States and found sustainability is more important now than a year ago. They also found the definition of sustainability continues to broaden to include social concerns as well as environmental impacts.
More than 80% of consumers said sustainability is an important factor when deciding what food and beverage to purchase from grocery stores or order from restaurants. More than half said they are “somewhat” or “significantly” more concerned about sustainability compared to a year ago. Concerns about sustainability were highest among consumers ages 18 to 44, with more than a third rating it as “extremely important.”
The top reasons for heightened concern include impacts on food workers, climate change and wildfires. Increased use of single-use plastics also emerged as a top concern, which may be the result of more frequent carryout meals during the pandemic, the companies said.
“This research shows that food producers from farms to supermarkets and restaurants must remain transparent in communicating their sustainable practices to customers,” said Mark Gale, chief growth officer at C.O.nxt.
The poll also found consumers increasingly tie sustainability to factors extending beyond the environment, including affordable food, fair wages and humanely raised animals. Nearly half of consumers defined sustainability as encompassing social and economic issues, compared with 19% who defined sustainability as exclusively related to the environment.
“Along with broader definitions of sustainability come expectations for specific action,” said Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters. “Merely claiming to be sustainable is not enough.”
Younger consumers were both more concerned about sustainability and more likely to trust sustainability claims from food and beverage manufacturers. Consumers ranked a commitment to assessing the overall environmental footprint of ingredients as the sustainability statement they are most likely to trust from food and beverage manufacturers and restaurants, followed by a commitment to animal welfare and a commitment to transparent reporting.
More than half of consumers said they would “definitely” or “probably” be willing to pay more for sustainable food and beverages, with younger consumers ranking the highest in their willingness to pay more.
“Pricing research can be tricky,” Mr. Gale said. “Consumers don’t always do what they say. But it’s worth noting that younger age groups show high interest in food and sustainability and concern over specific topics. The food system should keep this in mind going forward.”