Consumers link sustainability to food quality

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 30th September 2009

Market research firms Packaged Facts and The Hartman Group have discovered a close relationship between consumer perceptions of sustainability and food quality that could impact on shopping behaviour.

Sustainability means different things to different people. Asked to identify what the term means to them, consumers most frequently respond “the ability to last over time” and “the ability to support oneself”. Sustainability is also strongly associated with environmental concerns, whereby consumers are being challenged to develop and express an “eco-consciousness” in their daily habits and purchases. But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the frame of reference; these older terms fail to acknowledge the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe to be important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large.

Consequently, as consumers become more educated about the environmental, social, and economic implications of food and beverage choices, their health and wellness motivations dovetail with larger societal concerns. A close relationship develops between sustainability and emerging definitions of food quality, as consumers use sustainable attributes to infer food quality, and food quality to infer sustainability.

Within the personal care market, personal health and wellness concerns remain the most important motivation for purchasing sustainable products. Nonetheless, “natural” remains a meaningful reference point for a variety of sustainable personal care products, even if the term has lost significance in other packaged good categories.

In response to the current economic downturn, many consumers have modified their purchasing behaviors in relation to sustainable products. Nonetheless, the research argues that tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely for product categories that sustainability consumers view as essential to their quality of life, with food at the top of that list, and also including personal care and household cleaners.