After surveying 942 people, researchers from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands classified consumers into four camps: unsustainers, curtailers, product-oriented consumers and sustainers.
They said it wasn’t enough to look at the degree of a consumer’s sustainable food attitudes as past research had done, more investigation was needed into the type of sustainability they engaged in.
Published in the journal Appetite, the results suggested one ‘meat-free’ day a week and eating smaller portions of meat were the most popular sustainable food behaviours, performed by 56.1% and 51.5% of the respondents, respectively.
This was followed by eating less (39.4%), buying free range meat (38.2%), buying products with a sustainability label (36.9%) and buying organic fruits and vegetables (33.2%).
While eating less dairy (21.9%), buying organic dairy (24.8%) and buying organic meat (26.6%) were least popular.
The research funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic affairs, Agriculture and Innovation used data collected in 2011 through an online survey of respondents aged 18 to 65 years with varying education levels.
They were asked to rate the importance of factors like organic, animal friendly, environmentally friendly, home brand, origin, well-known, ready to eat, portion size, price and healthiness.
The rise of the meat reducers
“These percentages show that meat curtailment was performed most frequently. In contrast, curtailment of dairy consumption was much less popular, indicating the importance of product category differences among curtailment behaviours,” the researchers wrote.
Semi-vegetarians, flexitarians or meat reducers. Whatever you call them, Mintel data suggests they are on the rise.
At the beginning of this year 17% of Germans, 28% of Italians, 27% of Spaniards, 14% of Poles and 18% of French people said they were incorporating more vegetarian foods into their diet compared to a year ago.
Research published last year on so called meat reducing echoed the idea of consumer subcategories. The fellow Dutch researchers urged policy-makers not to take a “too narrow” focus on sustainability strategies since meat had a special status in society and strategies promoting meat-free diets and smaller portions of better meat carried the risk of fixating on meat for its own sake.
“This fixation may not only scare off non-vegetarians but can also make it more difficult to see the bigger picture of reduction and replacement. To make a real difference, diet change strategies should focus on the level of the whole diet and pay due attention to the whole diverse range of consumers and their dietary choices,” they wrote.
The world’s protein supply is expected to reach breaking point by 2050 if current consumption patterns and population growth continues.
Making your choice
Mintel global food science analyst Laura-Daisy Jones agreed identifying subcategories of sustainable consumers was important.
“In terms of distinction between sustainable products, foods at health shops and more high end stores, that would appeal to the more discerning shopper, do more actively promote their sustainability positioning,” she told FoodNavigator.
“Often providing more detail around the sourcing of ingredients and production techniques used, telling more of a story. While more mainstream products may simply display logos from independent bodies as validation without the extra detail.”
According to Mintel’s 2015 report The Ethical Food Consumers, 24% of UK consumers choose where they shop based on the range of ethical food products available.
Vol. 91, pp 375–384, doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.04.055
“Sustainable food consumption. Product choice or curtailment?”
Authors: M. C.D. Verain, H. Dagevos, G. Antonides