Consumers and Sustainability: Food and Beverage

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Published Sep 1, 2009 | 38 Pages | Pub ID: LA2108839

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This report forms part of a series jointly published by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts on Consumers and Sustainability. This four-part series covers in separate reports the markets for foods and beverages, personal care products, household cleaners, and OTC medications and supplements.

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” (76%) 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. Thus, nearly half of consumers associate sustainability with conserving natural resources and with recycling.

But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the term. “Green” falls short as a description for the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe are important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large. Adoption of sustainable products mirrors the health and wellness progression that The Hartman Group has previously reported, in which consumers first consider the impacts of things in the body, followed by on the body, and finally around the body.

As consumers become more educated about the environmental, social, and economic implications of their shopping habits, their health and wellness motivations dovetail with societal concerns, such that four zones of sustainability become relevant to purchasing choices:

  • The Personal Benefit Zone
  • The Environmental Zone
  • The Social Zone
  • The Economic Zone

All of these zones are salient to the food and beverage category, which is central to consumer perceptions of sustainability. In fact, many of the attributes that generally describe quality eating experiences, particularly freshness, also resonate as sustainable in the food and beverage category.

Measurement of consumer purchasing of sustainable products across 20 food and beverage categories shows a range of adoption rates among sustainability-minded consumers, and a range by product category in willingness to pay a 20% cost premium for sustainable products. Nonetheless, while sustainability consumers have certainly modified their behavior in response to financial conditions, tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely to be made in product categories that sustainability consumers view as essential to their quality of life, including food.

To balance the agenda to save money with the commitment to buy sustainable goods, for example, many consumers are shifting purchases of these products to discount outlets such as Walmart. At the same time (and in response), supermarkets are upping the sustainability credentials of their private-label lines, opening up another pathway to sustainable-at-a-discount shopping. Retailers are also stressing sustainability options outside of the packaged good aisles, notably local produce and bulk merchandise. At the current intersection of sustainability awareness and financial downturn, the market is ripe for food products that allow consumers to shop more sustainably and spend less money.

Read an excerpt from this report below.

Series Methodology

This report series was jointly produced by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts, and is based on The Hartman Group’s 2009 multi-category study, Sustainability: The Rise of Consumer Responsibility. In addition, Packaged Facts provides an update of consumer attitudes and spending based on a proprietary online poll conducted in February 2009 and on Experian Simmons surveys fielded from November 2008 to June 2009.

The Hartman Group Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

This report draws primarily on an online survey of 1,856 U.S. adults conducted in September 2008 by The Hartman Group to understand consumer attitudes and behaviors related to sustainability. The sample was drawn from a panel of adult U.S. consumers with Internet access, and was designed to provide good representation of the U.S. population according to geographic area, age, gender, race and income. The Hartman Group also conducted qualitative research on sustainability in three markets (Seattle, Dallas, and Columbus) during August 2008, using consumer ethnography with fifty consumers as the cornerstone of qualitative research. Ethnographic interviews included one-on-one conversations at an individual’s home or at a specific retail setting, as well as group interviews also at consumers’ homes. These engagements garnered more than 100 hours of in-depth, revelatory consumer discussion.

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