Price dwarfs sustainability as a food purchase motivator: survey

Dive Brief:

  • Price is a much more significant driver of food and beverage purchasing decisions than environmental sustainability — by a margin of 68% to 39%, according to the International Food Information Council’s 2022 Food and Health Survey. 
  • When given a choice between three products, with the most expensive also being the most eco-friendly, only 15% of consumers said they would be most likely to select the most sustainable option. Most, or 46%, would pick the mid-priced, somewhat eco-friendly option, while 39% would select the lowest-priced, not very sustainable product.

  • Amid an inflationary food purchasing environment, consumers’ willingess to pay more for sustainable products is being tested. The divide in who is more likely to pay extra falls along age lines, according to the IFIC survey, with younger consumers being much more likely to take it into consideration.

Dive Insight:

Inflation has hit the food industry particularly hard. This past week, the USDA projected that food-at-home prices will rise between 7% and 8% in 2022, led by increases for eggs, fats and oils, poultry, meat, seafood and dairy.

That said, while sustainability is not consumers’ top consideration in picking a food or beverage at the grocery store — with taste and price having a significant advantage — the IFIC survey found that the number of those who consider it important is rising. Nearly four in 10 respondents said that environmental sustainability has impacted their purchasing decisions, a significant increase from 27% in 2019.

This sentiment is reflected in other recent research, including an April report from Kearney that found that 27% of consumers think about the environment when they are making purchases. A survey by Cargill from earlier this year found that more than half of consumers (55%) were more likely to buy an item with a sustainability claim on its labeling.

Consumers also are showing a heightened awareness of food’s impact on sustainability. Over half of survey respondents (52%) said that they believe the food that they buy has an impact on the environment, a 10-point increase from 2021. Millennials, people with a college degree or a higher income, and those with children were more likely to believe this, according to the survey.

A larger number of Gen Z consumers, ages 18 to 24, were sampled for this year’s IFIC survey to provide greater insight for how young people assess the food they buy. Gen Z consumers are more likely to buy products labeled as “plant-based” and “small carbon footprint” or “carbon neutral” than baby boomers, which helps explain the rising number of brands that highlight their low impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, as consumers have become more sustainability-minded, there has been a growing desire to combat food waste in the industry. According to the IFIC survey, 57% of respondents said they were either somewhat or very concerned about the issue. Economic concerns shape how consumers view food waste, with more than half of consumers (53%) saying that they were concerned about food waste because they considered it a waste of money. This was especially true among older consumers.