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Consumer Priorities for sustainable development
Project Code: SUS101
Summary and conclusions
When buying food and groceries, consumers are most likely to consider economic issues, followed by social issues. Environmental issues are less likely to be taken into account. However, even so, over a half of shoppers (53%) consider at least one environmental issue when shopping for food/groceries.
A similar pattern emerges when consumers were asked to rank the factors that are most important to them when buying food/groceries with economic issues dominating, followed by social issues and then environmental issues. Two-thirds of shoppers (66%) rank an economic factor as most important, while 23% rank a social issue as most important and 10% rank an environmental issue as most important. When considering the individual issues when buying food and groceries, quality of food (29%), price (21%) and the healthiness of food (11%) were considered to be most important.
This is backed up by claimed behaviour. Most say they have carried out at least one ‘food related environmental activity’ in the last two months. However, not many are carrying out a number of distinct activities i.e. not many are doing all or even most of the following*: buying free range eggs, buying locally farmed meat, choosing fair trade products, buying organic meat/poultry, choosing food based on air miles or choosing fish based on stock levels. In total, only 1.5% of shoppers have conducted all six of these different food related environmental activities in the last 2 months, while 5% have conducted five or more and 13% have conducted four or more of these activities in the last 2 months.
* The reader should note that these terms were chosen as they are activities which are perceived to be environmental behaviours by consumers.
The sub-groups most likely to have carried out food related environmental activities in the past or who consider or rank environmental issues highly are older shoppers (35+), those from social grade AB, women and those living in rural areas.
Consumer understanding of sustainable development is mixed, with two-fifths unable to provide a definition. Many did mention aspects related to sustainable development (esp. sustainability of food source/stocks/not wasting food), however many also talked about issues (although related) not directly linked to sustainable development e.g. eating healthier food.
When asked to trade-off different options in order to understand whether consumers would be willing to trade off aspects of food safety / choice / nutrition against other sustainability issues, opinions were polarised. Not one of the six trade-offs generated a majority preference of 51%. This general lack of agreement among consumers highlights the difficulty the Food Standards Agency will face in communicating these messages to the general public.
The largest gap was only 8%, where 49% chose detailed country of origin labelling even though this would lead to increased costs for industry. Interestingly there is evidence to suggest that choice is important to people (even if this to the detriment of other aspects of sustainability) with a large number of respondents happy to admit that they would prefer a choice of fruit/vegetables all year round even though this would mean more air transportation (45% v 47%) or admit they would like to choose from a wide variety of fish regardless of stock levels (47% v 41%).
There appears to be a strong willingness among consumers to pay more for food in order to protect/improve aspects of the economy, society and environment. A majority of consumers (around 70%) claim they would be willing to spend more to ensure certain sustainability criteria are met (results are similar across the economic, social and the environmental pillars i.e. around 70% willing to spend more for each of these issues). However, the majority of those likely to spend more would only spend ‘a little more’ rather than ‘a lot more’. This group tended to be younger (25-54 yrs), female, higher grocery spends (£100+ a week per household), those from social grade ABC1, those living in rural areas and those who shop at M&S or Waitrose.
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