Sustainability Factors Influencing Food Purchases

Sustainability Factors Influencing Food Purchases

March 14, 2018
Shari Steinbach

By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor

Recent research from The Hartman Group (2017), indicates that 83% of consumers surveyed were familiar with the term sustainability. As a retail dietitian, you may see shopper interest in this topic play out with purchasing decisions being made, and by questions being asked. From climate change to food waste, it is easy to see why customers may be concerned, but to food communicators, the total sustainability issue can be overwhelming. The abundance of misinformation about products and companies, however, provide great opportunities for marketing and education.

To better explain how consumers, think about, and act upon sustainability factors, The Hartman Group identified four areas of responsibility that are considered:

  • Personal – Responsibility for one’s self or family’s needs and desires.
  • Social – Responsibility for the needs of others, including animals.
  • Economic – Responsibility for the economic well-being of a community or nation.
  • Environmental – Responsibility for the well-being of the planet.

While personal well-being is the main driver for sustainable purchases, these zones can overlap, like with the choice to buy organic. The Hartman Group also identified a core group of consumers who highly value sustainability, and another small group who are least involved. The best opportunity for reaching consumers with sustainability messages, however, is to target the more receptive 58% who are in the middle. Below are some key considerations for communicating to this group: 

  • Utilize on-line resources and packaging to convey information around safety, experience, transparency and authenticity.
  • Establish trust by always being open and honest with consumers.
  • Remember that shoppers often use the ingredient label to assess transparency, looking for products free from pesticides, hormones, artificial ingredients, etc.
  • Consumers also want transparency around quality control, animal welfare and labor practices.
  • Be aware that reducing waste, water stewardship and replenishment are all emerging sustainability issues.
  • Involve kids in the discussion and education where possible. 
  • Partner with food companies and suppliers to tell “stories” about sustainability efforts related to product care, production practices and land stewardship. General Mills, for example, has significant sustainable sourcing and waste reduction programs in place, and is addressing pollinator decline with significant investments. Share these supplier partner initiatives and communicate your own company narratives to provide transparency.