Demand for sustainability is high, comprehension is low, says Mintel

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Federal trade commission

Demand for sustainable foods and beverages has continued to grow – but many consumers don’t know what the various claims mean, according to market research organization Mintel.

The organization has tracked the launch of more than 13,000 new products making sustainability claims since 2005 in response to increased consumer demand via its Global New Products Database. According to Mintel figures, 84 percent of consumers say they actively seek out sustainability claims on food and drink.

Senior analyst at Mintel David Browne said: "Packaging claims such as 'recyclable' or 'eco- or environmentally friendly' are fairly 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. They may have heard of the terms, but they'd be hard-pressed to define them."

This tallies with moves from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which said earlier this month that terms like ‘environmentally friendly’ may be too broad, and can be at odds with consumer perceptions. It has proposed new guidelines that would crack down on the use of general claims that a product is environmentally friendly, saying: “Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.”

Perception of superior quality is cited by 45 percent of consumers as the reason they purchase sustainable foods, according to Mintel, while 43 percent say environmental and human welfare are the main driving factors. And food safety is behind 42 percent of sustainable food and beverage purchases.

Browne said: "These reasons vary in importance across different demographics. What's most important to young adults may not be the primary deciding factor for affluent consumers. Marketers should consider this in their claims closely; noting that health, welfare, and safety are important for nearly all consumers."

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