A proliferation of eco-labels could have adverse consequences, as food manufacturers question the value of certification schemes in light of a fragmented market and multiple fees, according to Organic Monitor.
The specialist research and consulting company claims that organic claims account for the majority of the $75bn global market for foods and beverages that carry eco-friendly claims, which also include Fairtrade, Marine Stewardship Council, Certified Humane, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified seals, among dozens of others.
“With the number and types of eco-labels proliferating, there is a concern that food producers could be discouraged to adopt eco-labels because of the growing disparity between standards and multiple certification costs,” said the firm.
In particular, Organic Monitor points to the fragmentation of the fair trade movement in 2011, which saw Fair Trade USA break away from umbrella organisation Fairtrade International (FLO). This could create a barrier for manufacturers considering fair trade certification.
“Although the Fair Trade mark of FLO is the most evident, it is no longer the single identification label for certified fair trade products,” it said.
“…A larger concern is the effect on consumers: how can consumers distinguish between the growing number of logos and seals of organic / fair trade products, as well as differentiate them between other eco-labels?”
Indeed, consumer demand for eco-friendly products continues to grow and companies have responded, with more than 13,000 new products making sustainability claims from 2005-10, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database.
However, other market researchers have suggested that consumers’ perception of ‘sustainability’ could significantly differ from that of food manufacturers.
The Hartman Group for example says that although consumers are interested in sustainable business practices in terms of their wider social, environmental and economic impacts, most consumers engage with sustainability through the dimension of personal benefit. The primary sustainability concern for most consumers is whether a company helps their local community, according to the market researcher.
Organic Monitor organises the Sustainable Food Summit , with editions in Europe and North America, and this year’s programme aims to tackle eco-labels and sustainability in the food industry.