Most consumers want and will pay more for ‘sustainable’ options, but struggle to easily find them

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

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Consumers increasingly want products that are better for them, but also better for the planet – unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell which products are healthy or sustainable, which is why it is important to use claims that resonate with shoppers and have a holistic marketing strategy to communicate other key values.

More than half of consumers want to buy products that are environmentally sustainable and are influenced by this value, but more than 60% struggle to understand when a food or beverage meets that criteria, according to the International Food Information Council’s recently released 2019 Food and Health Survey.

“Consumers really don’t have a clear understanding of what environmentally sustainable means,”​ Tamika Sims, director of food technology communications at IFIC, told FoodNavigator-USA at IFT19 in New Orleans earlier this month.

She explained they don’t know if sustainable means saving water, reducing energy use, lowering greenhouse gas emissions or using fewer pesticides – just to name a few options.

Given this confusion, she adds, manufacturers may be better off communicating environmental sustainability messaging through a broader marketing campaign, rather than including short but ambiguous claims on pack.

“We find that talking about food production in a very holistic way can be impactful. So, that includes, besides putting things on your label, being where consumers are. So, engaging on social media, being active in talking about food and  nutrition, and then kind of infusing sustainability messages here and there,”​ Sims recommends. “It does take a little bit of maneuvering and strategy, but sustainability messages, of course, we can see they are important.”

By going this route, manufacturers not only can create a more rich and full dialogue about sustainability, but they can also free up limited real estate on product packaging for claims that might have a more immediate impact on sales, Sims said.

“You can’t put everything on the label and there are some key labels that … consumers are looking for way ahead of sustainability labels,”​ she said. “They are looking for natural, they are looking for no added hormones. They are looking for no antibiotics ever. These are the types of labels they actually are looking for.”

That said, including sustainability on product packaging could help win back consumers who are turned off by genetic engineering, Sims said.

She explained that in 2018 IFIC surveyed consumers’ reaction the to the proposed USDA and AMS bio-engineering food label.

“we wanted to know if the label being on the package … would have an impact on whether the consumer would pay above or below a controlled price,”​ Sim said. She explained that IFIC found that when the BE ingredient label or symbol was on a package, consumers wanted to pay less for the product. But if environmentally sustainable messages also appeared on pack, consumers’ willingness to pay more actually jumped back up.

“So, the word does carry some weight. Just when you thought you may have lost the consumer, you may be able to get them back again with this word being sustainable,”​ she said.

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