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Rising inflation hinders sustainable food shopping

Despite best intentions regarding sustainability and the environment, the purchasing decision about F&B brands to purchase is ultimately led by price, with fast-rising inflation and the worst cost of living crisis in a century, research finds.

Nearly three-quarters of British and German consumers strongly agree that protecting the environment is one of the most important issues of our times and, as a result, want to shop more sustainably. Half of the consumers in each market check for sustainable ingredients on packaging and pay attention to the displays/information shown on shelves. However, with fast-rising inflation and the worst cost of living crisis in a century, the decision about which food and drink brands to purchase is ultimately led by price for the majority (79%) of British shoppers. In Germany, it’s all about taste (70%) and then price (69%), according to research done by quantilope, a software company and provider of insights automation technology for both quantitative and qualitative research.

The research finds that rising inflation is a barrier to adopting more sustainable shopping practices for more than half of shoppers in both countries, with just one in five in the UK and one in four in Germany making planet-friendly choices that prioritize sustainable packaging. German shoppers are more likely to prioritize buying products with local ingredients; 39% compared to 19% in the UK.

For the 2022 Consumer Trends in Sustainability study, quantilope surveyed 1200 consumers in the UK and Germany to better understand changing attitudes towards sustainability. The survey finds that today most people want to actively reduce waste, and therefore their climate footprint, with one in three British shoppers saying they are more likely to buy products that have sustainable packaging (similar to German shoppers). German shoppers are more bothered about plastic though, with 58% of them identified in quantilope’s advanced segmentation as having a zero-waste attitude. 

Around three-quarters of shoppers actively attempt to reduce waste (77% in the UK and 71% in Germany) and more than half (51% in both countries) plan to buy less plastic. Some plastic packaging is inevitable of course and one-third of survey respondents claim to separate waste for recycling.  In the UK and Germany, 34% are even willing to pay more taxes if they are used for environmental protection purposes; though 39% are not and 27% are neutral. 

One-third of shoppers (42% in Germany) are so concerned about plastic pollution that they do more than anyone else to reduce plastic in their purchases, separate waste and recycle the plastic they do sometimes have to buy. These Waste Warriors are strongly focused on factors that have a direct environmental impact such as reducing plastic in the ocean and biodegradability; they have a zero-waste attitude. As a collective, Waste Warriors are typically within the age bracket of 40 to 49 years. Compared to other segments quantilope identified in its study, they are more likely to be University educated, small city or suburban dwellers and earn a slightly higher income than average. They strongly believe that protecting the environment is one of the most important issues of our time.

“Our research paints an interesting picture of how attitudes to sustainability impact food choices,” said Peter Aschmoneit, CEO and Co-Founder of quantilope. “While consumers expect brands to take responsibility for the sustainability of their products, they are more than willing to do their bit to save the planet. However, there are barriers that need to be removed, or reduced, to make sustainable behaviors easier; money is the biggest barrier with uncertainty about what is sustainable and limited access to sustainable products also reducing sustainable actions.”  

Sustainable ingredients – the Ingredient Inspectors

More than half of shoppers check the ingredients on the package (56% in the UK and 53% in Germany) and in-store information and displays (53% in the UK and 49% in Germany).

One-third are so rigorous about what’s in their purchases that they check for certifications on the package (33% in the UK and 39% in Germany) and look for direct sustainability claims (34% and 35% respectively). These Ingredient Inspectors are primarily focused on the content of the food that they buy and choose vegan and vegetarian products.  They are more likely than other segments to buy locally, believing that this can have a positive influence on the planet. While they are concerned about the planet, they are not avid recyclers, being more skewed to concerns about sustainability and health. They want to ensure that what they buy is healthy and sustainable – organic, natural and antibiotic and chemical-free. Money isn’t a barrier, but time and effort are.

“There is broad acknowledgment that money, time and effort make being more sustainable a challenge,” continued Aschmoneit. “The two most popular actions that people currently take – reducing waste and using reusable shopping bags, require little time, effort and no specialist knowledge; demonstrating that when the action is easy to slot into everyday life, people are happy to take it. With rising inflation threatening disposable income, it is critical that manufacturers understand how changes they make to product pricing and packaging can impact consumer decisions. Brands that will be best placed to win in the future, recognize that not all consumers are the same and have different attitudes around sustainability. They can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach. They need to address the sustainability concerns of consumers, tailor their approach and communicate what they do clearly and without making them pay too much of a premium.”

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