Kerry has released new research which reveals that consumers’ expectations around sustainability are rapidly evolving with a growing number demanding increased sustainability benefits from their food and beverage products. The survey of over 14,000 consumers across 18 countries uncovers key consumer associations with sustainability and is one of the largest surveys of this type ever to be undertaken.

The research shows that 49 percent of consumers are now considering sustainability when buying food and drink and that their understanding of the issue is evolving from environmental and social responsibility to including sustainable wellbeing and sustainable nutrition. This means that typical associations with sustainability such as sustainable packaging and environmental preservation are now considered to be standard for many consumers. Consumers, particularly those in more sustainability-mature markets such as United Kingdom, Benelux, and France are now considering sustainability as something that directly impacts them, and upon which they can have an impact, such as food waste reduction, personal health and nutrition and clean label claims such as "locally sourced," "no artificial ingredients," and "organic."

Sustainability is top-of-mind for consumers around the globe, with the research revealing that 84 percent of consumers believe it is important for each person to contribute to sustainability. However, three in four relegate the primary responsibility to the industry. The largest barrier to adopting sustainability remains consumers’ lack of understanding of their personal impact on the planet.

Commenting on the study results, Soumya Nair, insights director, from Kerry said:

“This research has unveiled some really surprising results that have positioned sustainability as a must-have rather than a differentiator among consumers. It’s interesting to see the rise of intrinsic associations of sustainability in not only mature sustainability markets like the United Kingdom, Benelux, and France, but across all countries. These sustainability-minded consumers are actively seeking out food and beverage products that have a significantly positive impact on the planet as well as on their personal health and wellbeing, seeking products with clean label claims and locally sourced ingredients. In addition, the different expectations between consumer demographics shows how consumers expect companies to do more outside of issues such as sustainable packaging, carbon emissions and water conservation."

“These findings have major implications for the food and drinks industry as we are clearly at a significant and critical moment regarding sustainable nutrition. By helping consumers access more sustainable products, we can help them eat healthier, with less waste and improve local communities as a result.”  

Four key consumer archetypes emerged from the research, based on consumer understanding of sustainability and their level of sustainability adoption. These four cohorts of sustainability-minded consumers archetypes sit at different points on the ‘Sustainability Adoption Curve’ and Kerry has labelled them Inactives, Passives, Followers, and Frontrunners.

Interest around sustainability varied across age cohorts, with ‘older millennials’ (1980 – 1989), the Frontrunners, more likely to be deeply engaged with the issue (46 percent). Meanwhile, Followers (23 percent) are classified as engaged and willing to act, but expect manufacturers, brands, and external authorities such as governments to take the lead in tackling sustainability issues. Interestingly, this group is likely to be younger millennials and Gen Z, or those born 1999 to 2004. Passives (24 percent) are concerned about sustainability but lack understanding of their own impact, while Inactives (6 percent) care a little but do not take any action, with cost a significant barrier to purchasing more sustainable products.

With Kantar estimating the overall spending power of consumers who are already engaged with sustainability at $382 billion, there is a significant opportunity for food producers and manufacturers, as more consumers become sustainability-aware and their sustainability demands evolve along the Sustainability Adoption Curve.

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