IFIC: Lower prices prioritized over sustainability despite rising awareness of food’s environmental impact

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/	Morsa Images
Source: Getty/ Morsa Images

Related tags International Food Information Council Sustainability Packaging Environment

More Americans are worried about the planet’s health and understand that their dietary choices impact the environment, yet few are willing to pay significantly more for eco-friendly products – potentially squeezing companies undertaking expensive sustainability initiatives, suggests new data from the International Food Information Council.

According to IFIC’s recently released 2022 Food and Health survey of more than 1,000 US adults, more than half of Americans believe their food and beverage purchases impact the environment – a significant increase from 42% last year.

Of those who believe their dietary choices have a significant or moderate impact the environment, younger consumers, including Millennials and Gen Xers notably over-index at 67% and 53% compared to 50% of Gen Zers and 34% of Boomers, according to the study, which is in this 17th​ year.

Likewise, IFIC found, parents with children younger than 18 years were more likely to believe diet impacts the environment at 69% versus 41% with no children under 18 years. Those with higher education and household incomes were also more likely to hold these beliefs.

But, the survey reveals, far fewer consumers act on this belief with only 39% reporting that environmental sustainability impacts their decisions about what food and beverages to buy.

More important to most consumers is taste, which 80% of survey respondents prioritize when buying food and beverages, as well as price (noted by about 70% of respondents) and healthfulness and convenience, noted about 60% of respondents for each, IFIC reports.

And even though environmental sustainability remains the lowest purchase driver of those measured by IFIC, it is up notably from 27% in 2019 – providing some positive reinforcement for companies investing in environmental sustainability initiatives.

Consumers will pay more – to a limited extent – for environmental products

Even as environmental sustainability gains ground as a purchase driver, very few consumers are willing to pay significantly more for eco-friendly products all other things being equal.

According to IFIC, only 15% of consumers said they would select the most expensive ($7) and most eco-friendly option if they saw three versions of the same food or beverage product that they like but with different price points increasing with eco-friendly status.

The bulk of respondents – 46% -- said they would pay some extra ($5) for a product that is somewhat eco-friendly and 39% said they would select the least expensive option ($3) even though it is not very eco-friendly, the survey revealed.

But for those consumers who do care about environmental sustainability and are willing to act on it – what do they look for to help them evaluate products?

According to IFIC, recyclable packaging – cited by 40% of survey respondents who care about sustainability – is the top indicator that a product is environmentally friendly, followed by 37% who listed labelled as sustainably sourced, 32% who favored labelled as locally grown and 31% who check if a package is made from recycled materials.

Other cues that effectively signal a product is sustainable include organic (cited by 30% of consumers who care about sustainability when purchasing goods), reusable packaging (noted by 29% of respondents), and labelled as non-GMO (27%), according to IFIC.

Production practices matter to some consumers

Beyond packaging, consumers concerned about the environmental impact of their diet also consider food production and look for options that minimize impact on natural resources.

According to IFIC, 46% of consumers said it is important to them to know that a food or beverages is made in an environmentally sustainable way – the same percent who prioritized knowing that food was produced with farming techniques that reduce the impact on natural resources.

Slightly fewer, 44%, said they wanted to know that a product was made in a way to minimize its carbon footprint or climate impact, according to IFIC.

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