While We Struggle With Defining Sustainability, Consumers Are Demanding It

The Lempert Report
November 16, 2020

Exploring the role of sustainable food trends - now and in the future.

There is a terrific interview published on Forbes.com by Jeff Fromm who explores the role of sustainable food trends – now and in the future. He interviewed Amarjit Sahota from Ecovia Intelligence and founder of the Sustainable Foods Summit and the discussion is worth the read, and certainly lays out some concrete directions for food to take.

Fromm starts out by laying the ground work with the facts:

  • 65% of consumers look for products that can help them live a more sustainable and socially responsible life
  • 60% of consumers buy products and services from companies that are socially and or environmentally responsible
  • 54% of consumers try to purchase products or services from brands that take a stand on social or environmental issues
  • 43% tend to purchase products and services from high purpose brands more than from their low purpose competitors.

Sahota says that a major trend in the food industry is growth in eco-labels. We know that. But what you may not know is that today the food industry has over 200 different eco-labels and organic, the first one, is just one of them. Other important eco-labels he says to watch in the U.S. food industry include Non-GMO Project Verified, Fair Trade, and Rainforest Alliance.

Fromm raises the question about consumer confusion, and the sad answer is that Ecovia does not see a let up in the launch of even more of these kind of labels in the future. And the new development is that more eco-labels are being introduced for single ingredients – for example, RSPO (the roundtable on sustainable palm oil).

While I hope that we are not headed down a rabbit hole where groups create these labels as fronts for their own agendas that are funded by major brands, it is certainly a possibility.

Sahota says that the main positive of these sustainability schemes is that eco-labels are encouraging sustainable development.  So [that] more and more agricultural crops are grown with lower environmental impact. The major negative, he admits, is consumer confusion.

He says that the growing number of eco-labels on food products is creating confusion as to what an ethical / sustainable product is. For instance, a growing number of food products are having multiple eco-labels and consumers cannot tell the differences between them.

Which without a doubt is true. Which is why we need retailers to be vetting out these labels and claims before they make it on to grocers shelves. To demand the facts and the science that stands behind these labels. In an era where more shoppers than ever want to know everything about the foods and brands they buy the grocer has a responsibility to be that first line of truth – with it comes a long term relationship, with shoppers.