Sustainability: Eating in the name of the climate.

Climate change is the top concern globally when considering sustainability, according to Mintel's Sustainability Barometer*. In this context, how can food & beverage brands lessen their impact on the climate, but also better communicate their actions? Eco-scoring, commitment to regenerative agriculture and upcycling are some of the avenues we explore in this article. 

We define eco-scoring as methods of displaying front of pack a product’s climate impact (ie carbon footprinting or the calculation of total greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the making of the product). Regenerative agriculture is a type of agriculture that reverses climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.

* Source: Mintel’s Sustainability Barometer 2022

Man looking at packed food in supermarket

Prioritize carbon footprint metrics to reassure consumers

In Mintel's Sustainability Barometer 20221, 61% of Japanese consumers say climate change is in their top three environmental concerns2. According to Mintel’s Global Consumer data, 53% of French consumers say climate change will have an effect on the food/drink they buy3.

Increasingly, consumers want to feel like they are making a difference by changing their consumption patterns. In the US, 77% of consumers believe individuals' sustainable actions have a global impact4. 73% of German consumers say that small changes to everyday habits can make a big difference to the environment5. In Spain, 77% of consumers say buying ethical food and drink makes them feel good6.

However, consumers are confused about what sustainable actions they should prioritize and food and drink brands need to provide guidance. In Canada, 83% of consumers say it is hard to know what the most sustainable choice is7. Food and drink brands will need to simplify choices and use metrics that are easy to understand yet comprehensive like carbon footprinting. In Canada, 44% of consumers say the carbon footprint of the food and drink they buy in store is a key environmental concern8.

Support consumer transparency with eco-scores

Pressure from governments (eg in France) and retailers (eg Lidl in the UK) to roll out eco-scoring systems on pack more systematically will introduce consumers to the concept of life cycle assessment. This will help consumers (and brands) rapidly identify areas of priority and make greenwashing more difficult.

For example, life cycle assessments of products show that 80-90% of carbon footprint comes from the production (agriculture/processing) phases. Additionally, food production contributes to 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions9. Consumers will therefore turn to claims that focus on more sustainable ways to produce and process food.

Regenerative agriculture: Decreasing carbon footprint where it matters

Soil health and the ability of agricultural soils to sequester carbon has been highlighted by the UN’s FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) as one of the most important environmental issues of our time.

Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground10 has helped to raise awareness among mainstream consumers of the importance of using regenerative agricultural practices to preserve soil health.

74% of US food and drink shoppers agree that companies should be more transparent about their farming practices11. However, awareness of regenerative agriculture is still limited with only 16% of Canadians saying that adopting regenerative agricultural practices resonates when buying food and drink12.

Still, consumers value a range of attributes that are generally associated with regenerative agriculture such as biodiversity, soil health and carbon sequestration13. In Germany, 34% of consumers prioritize food and drink products that support natural conservation, 31% prioritize products that have low carbon emissions and 17% prioritize products that protect soil health14. In China, 28% of consumers are concerned with the loss of biodiversity15.

Food and drink brands have an opportunity to educate consumers on the benefits of regenerative agriculture, especially in high impact categories like dairy, meat and pet food, where environmental concerns are a motivation to switch to alternative products. For other categories, brands should focus on tangible benefits of regenerative agriculture for consumers, eg health benefits or better taste.

Climate change as a top concern globally
 

61%

Japanese consumers say climate change is in their top three environmental concerns

53%

French consumers say climate change will have an effect on the food/drink they buy

44%

Canadian consumers say carbon footprint of food/drink is a key environmental concern

Offer products that help consumers reduce food waste

According to the World Wild Fund, 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if food stopped being wasted16. As a result, consumers view food waste as an easy strategy to focus on for a significant climate impact.

The pandemic has made people more conscious of the amount of food they waste and 79% of Italians say the COVID-19 outbreak has encouraged them to waste less food17. However, during the pandemic, consumers had more time at home and could control better the amount of food they cooked and therefore wasted. In a post-pandemic world where consumers are faced with less time to consider food waste, they are turning to products that reduce food waste for them, eg with upcycled ingredients. In Canada, 39% of consumers say they currently purchase foods that help reduce food waste and another 52% say they would consider doing so18.

More education is needed on the terminology used when adding ingredients from waste, however, as only 17% of Canadian consumers say “upcycled ingredients” resonate with them when purchasing food and drinks19. Campaigns that have been successful in engaging consumers with food waste have used more fun and less technical words such as “ugly fruits and vegs” or “broken faces”.

To go further

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1 Source: Mintel’s Sustainability Barometer 2022
2 Base: Japan: 1,000 internet users aged 18+; Source: Dynata/Mintel, April 2022
3 Base: France: 1,000 internet users aged 16+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, July 2020
4 Base: US: 2,000 internet users aged 18+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, January 2021
5 Base: Germany: 2,000 internet users aged 16+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, May 2022
6 Base: Spain: 632 internet users aged 16+ who are aware of and have bought food and drink with sustainable or ethical labels/certifications in the last 6 months; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, May 2021
7 Base: Canada: 2,000 internet users aged 18+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, November 2021
8 Base: Canada: 2,000 internet users aged 18+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, November 2021
9 Source: New Scientist
10 Source: Netflix
11 Base: US: 1,927 internet users aged 18+ who are responsible for food and drink shopping in household; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, December 2019
12 Base: Canada: 2,000 internet users aged 18+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, November 2021
13Source: The Climate Reality Project
14 Base: Germany: 2,000 internet users aged 16+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, May 2021
15 Base: China: 3,000 internet users aged 18-59; Source: KuRunData/Mintel, November 2021
16 Source: WWF
17Base: Italy: 2,000 internet users aged 16+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, May 2020
18 Base: Canada: 2,000 internet users aged 18+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, December 2019
19 Base: Canada: 2,000 internet users aged 18+; Source: Kantar Profiles/Mintel, November 2021

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