Research shows strong interest in carbon labels on food products

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 11th January 2010

As some of the world’s largest grocery retailers look at ways to put carbon labels on their products, research has showed strong consumer interest in the idea.

According to new research by the Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University in the UK, 72 per cent of consumers want carbon labels on food products.

The news supports assertions from UK-based Tesco and American-based Walmart that shoppers are actively looking to cut their carbon footprint. Tesco has already begun adding carbon labels to their range of private label goods while the world’s largest retailer – Walmart – is looking to add an eco-label to every product in their stores within a decade.

Zaina Gadema, a logistics and supply chain management researcher at Newcastle Business School, completed the first stage of her study to gauge consumer perceptions on green issues when food shopping at the end of December.

The shoppers surveyed across all of the UK’s major supermarkets were questioned on their demand for carbon labelling, their knowledge of their personal carbon footprints, whether they think climate change is an important issue when buying food, and whether current carbon labels are easily understood.

Around four-in-five of shoppers do not know their own personal carbon footprint, but almost three quarters of respondents said that clearer carbon labelling on food products would help them to think ‘green’, the study concluded. Additionally, 63% thought that carbon labels were a useful indicator for comparing environmental standards, although quality and taste (76%) were still deemed more important when purchasing food than environmental issues such as carbon (44%) and food miles (42%).

However, 68% claimed their purchasing behaviour had changed significantly in the past ten years. Consumers stated that their spending habits had shifted towards purchasing more free range (46%), more fair trade (42%), more locally sourced food (32%), and more organic and less processed food products (32%).

“In light of the high proportion of consumers expressing a definite shift in shopping habits, these initial findings suggest that concern is indeed high with respect to climate change and food purchasing simultaneously,” Ms Gadema said.

“Overall the dominant theme arising from this research is that consumers would generally like carbon labels on their food products. However, because there is little understanding or knowledge surrounding such information, as well as little in terms of availability of products with carbon footprints, it is difficult for consumers to compare environmental standards via carbon labels even though the majority of respondents think labels would help to do so.”