What makes food sustainable? It is a question that experts have debated for years, only to find there is rarely a silver bullet. But what do consumers think?
A recently published survey of more than 27,200 European consumers provides some answers (this doesn’t include UK consumers but the key findings remain noteworthy).
They were asked what ‘sustainable’ food meant to them. The most important characteristic, they said, was for it to be nutritious and healthy (41%). This was followed by little or no use of pesticides (32%) and affordability (29%).
Perhaps surprisingly, high profile considerations like local supply chains (24%) low environmental impact (22%, for example a low carbon footprint), high animal welfare standards (20%) and minimal packaging (20%) were all seen as lower priorities. Paying producers a fair wage was even further back (16%).
And yet most (81%) want food prices to reflect costs for society, including the environmental and health impacts associated with consumption. Three quarters said they are ready to spend more for food which protects their health and the planet. But will they really?
Indeed, taste (45%), food safety (42%) and cost (40%) all trump environmental impact (15%) when buying food. Even the shelf-life (20%) is considered more important.
Still, producers (65%), manufacturers (58%) and governments (47%) are the ones responsible for making food systems sustainable in the view of the European public. Hospitality and foodservice far less so: only 25% mentioned them. Consumers felt they actually had a more important role than restaurants, caterers or hotels (43%).
But they are a demanding bunch. They want information on food sustainability to become mandatory (88%), as well as ‘one logo’ to help them choose healthy sustainable food (85%). Nothing major or complicated, then?
Regulations should force food businesses to meet stringent sustainability standards, said 83%, with marketing restrictions on foods that do not contribute to healthy, sustainable diets.
Only 46% of Europeans consider that public authorities are doing enough to encourage and promote food sustainability. The UK government and its catering suppliers should take note of the following: 91% feel that food offered in public institutions should be ‘sustainable’.
Monday’s Footprint Premium is an analysis of carbon labelling, while Wednesday discusses new research on the health impacts of ultra-processed foods.