Study finds demand, confusion when it comes to sustainable

Many consumers unclear on what the term means, Mintel finds

The demand for sustainable food and beverage items continues to grow despite some consumer confusion about what the term really means, according to a new study from Mintel.

In an online survey of 2,000 adults, 84 percent of respondents said they regularly buy green or sustainable food and drink. However, in asking consumers why they purchase such items, Mintel researchers found that many are unaware of what makes a product sustainable.

“Packaging claims, such as recyclable or eco- or environmentally friendly are well known to consumers, but sustainable product claims, such as 'solar/wind energy usage' or 'fair trade,' have yet to enter the mainstream consumer consciousness,” said David Browne, a senior analyst at Chicago-based Mintel. “They may have heard of the terms, but they’d be hard-pressed to define them.”

Forty percent of the study’s respondents said they had never heard of the solar/wind energy usage claim, and 37 percent said they’d never purchased food or drink bearing that claim. Another lesser-known claim, Mintel found, is carbon footprint/emissions, with 32 percent of respondents saying they’d never heard of the term. Meanwhile, 34 percent said they didn’t know what fair trade meant.

The most popular reason cited by respondents for buying sustainable food and drinks was the belief that those products are of better quality, with 45 percent citing that as their primary reason. Another 43 percent said they buy sustainable products because they are concerned about environmental/human welfare, while 42 percent said cited food-safety reasons.

Browne noted that reasons for buying sustainable products vary across difference demographics.

“What’s more important to young adults may not be the primary deciding factor for affluent consumers. Marketers should consider this in their claims closely,” he added, saying “health, welfare and safety are important for nearly all consumers.”

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected]