Consumers more focused on packaging and food waste than emissions – Bord Bia

Majority of global trade buyers see Ireland as source of sustainable produce

At present, consumers view food waste and packaging as the most important sustainability issues; which are more easily solved compared to the biodiversity issue. Photograph: iStock

At present, consumers view food waste and packaging as the most important sustainability issues; which are more easily solved compared to the biodiversity issue. Photograph: iStock

 

Consumers are more focused on packaging and food waste than carbon emissions, leaving a “clear leadership role” for industry in highlighting sustainability issues, according to a new Bord Bia survey.

In one of the most extensive global surveys of consumers’, trade buyers’ and thought leaders’ attitudes to sustainability ever undertaken, Bord Bia found widely varying priorities among different groups.

The survey was undertaken in 13 markets including Ireland to understand emerging trends among “agenda setters” (advocacy groups, policymakers and industry leaders), customers including trade buyers, and more than 11,000 consumers.

Bord Bia said it was intended to help promote sustainability among Origin Green’s Irish food and drink businesses members, and to assist them in promoting products “based on meaningful, sustainable actions” – Origin Green is a verified national sustainability scheme for the sector.

The findings suggest emissions are a key topic for agenda setters and trade customers including larger retailers, who are setting science-based or net-zero emission targets and “putting pressure on suppliers to reduce emissions and presenting sustainable suppliers with an opportunity to stand out”.

Two thirds of trade buyers globally say “having the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions/carbon footprint” is important when choosing a supplier and sustainability is becoming a key purchasing criteria for trade buyers, along with quality, price and supply. Some 60 per cent of buyers say Ireland is a source of sustainably produced food and drink.

Lifestyle changes

Consumers are less focused on emissions “as it is currently more difficult to link the carbon footprint to the product on-shelf”, yet 73 per cent of grocery shoppers globally say they are willing to make lifestyle changes to be more sustainable.

Biodiversity is not yet on consumers’ radar in terms of making purchasing decisions. But as the sustainability agenda becomes more important, the carbon and biodiversity impact of products will become more important to consumers, according to Origin Green director Deirdre Ryan.

“We can expect more tipping points that will bring increased consumer and trade buyer focus on big sustainability topics,” said Damian Heary of Futavista, the consultancy company that conducted the survey. This could be triggered, he believed, by the outcome of the COP26 global summit in November or increased extreme weather events.

At present, consumers view food waste and packaging as the most important sustainability issues; which are more easily solved compared to the biodiversity issue, Ms Ryan added. Some 77 per cent indicate they have made an effort to buy products with less packaging, and 87 per cent indicate they have made an attempt to reduce food waste in the past year.

For beef and dairy consumers, high animal welfare standards and “grass-fed” are some of the most important sustainability attributes that can command a premium. Almost one in four beef consumers globally say they are willing to pay a premium for grass-fed beef.

Greenwashing

Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy said the survey will help the Irish food and drink industry better understand “how customers and consumers view sustainability, how they can communicate their actions and values in a more impactful way and what areas they need to improve on in the years ahead”.

Given increased awareness of greenwashing (where organisations rely on green PR or marketing more than concrete measures to demonstrate green credentials), she said the research makes the clear case for businesses to engage in measurable action backed by transparent data across a range of sustainability issues.

The findings suggest the sustainability agenda is happening at a different pace in different countries. In Western European markets, there is a greater focus on local food, and animal welfare is closely associated with sustainability. In Asian markets, where there is more of a concern over consistent, nutritious food supply, the focus in on quality and safety assurance.

In some areas, consumers appear to be looking for greater information around key sustainability issues. Bord Bia believes this is an opportunity for Irish brands to stand out if they can communicate in a clear way.

The research insights can be viewed at www.bordbia.ie.