Sustainability: do it for the planet – just don’t expect consumers to buy more of your product
It’s a common claim, and faced with a lack of evidence to back it up, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark and the European Food Information Council decided to find out what consumers really think.
The researchers interviewed over 4,000 people in Germany, the UK, France, Spain and Poland about their understanding of sustainability, their interest in it and whether they think about it when they buy food or drink products.
The first challenge the researchers found was that many people struggled to understand what “sustainability” means. When they got into detail it turned out that what was in people’s minds were ideas about “naturalness”, animal welfare, the geographic origin of foods and fairtrade. The researchers reported that, “some key issues such as climate change were overlooked.”
The study examined what people look for when choosing a food or drink. The depressing conclusion for anyone trying to build a business on sustainability is shown in the chart above. As the researchers said:
“reasonably high concern about sustainability…does not influence the type of information consumers look for on most food and drink products.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, women were most likely to take sustainability into account. Disturbingly, young people were among the least likely to consider sustainability.
For companies who care about sustainability, your reward will not be more sales – consumers don’t care much about your efforts – but there will still be a reward. It will be two-fold:
1. The cold hard cash that comes from reducing your use of water, energy and packaging
2. The ability to sleep well at night, secure in the knowledge that you are trying to do the right thing as a citizen.
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