September 15, 2022

With issues such as decreasing resources and the negative impact of production methods, the challenges of sustainable development and corporate social responsibility in the agrifood industry are felt just as keenly by both customers and producers. Consumer attitudes to CSR are examined in the Kantar Insights Food 360 Study 2022, outlined by SIAL Insights ahead of the SIAL Paris show this October.  

Often well-informed, and with a desire to understand in order to make better choices, consumers are increasingly knowledgeable of the entire supply chain and corporate social responsibility, from food production to food waste. A study from Kantar Insights showed that in 2022, 38% of consumers changed the way they eat in favour of local, seasonal produce, while 37% did so for environmental reasons. 

Are consumers experts in corporate social responsibility? 

Already familiar with analysing ingredients for health reasons, today consumers are growing aware of the full range of interactions and consequences caused by their choice of food. 

Kantar Insights found that 36% of consumers are paying more attention to environmental and ethical issues, and 11% have already radically changed how they eat for one of these reasons.

It could be said that consumer choices are linked to the production system that feeds them. Therefore, reducing harmful impact should be a corporate social responsibility of the entire supply chain. That means lowering total environmental impact (and more specifically the carbon footprint), producing less waste, offering fair pay for producers and safeguarding animal welfare. The latter factor is emerging as a major concern, with more than half of consumers now questioning the environmental and ethical consequences of producing the meat they eat.

Demand growing for local sourcing 

Local and seasonal produce is gaining an ever-growing number of fans around the world, with 68% of consumers prioritising this kind of produce. By revealing the fragility of globalisation, the pandemic has only consolidated this desire, the study indicates. 

Local produce is associated with being kinder to the environment, and being higher quality too. There is also the aspect of economic patriotism that comes with supporting producers (a very strong feeling in France). This is seen in stores, where there is an increasing number of labels mentioning local/national origins. 

Europe as a pioneer for change 

Although the pace may be stabilising, or even slowing, changes linked to environmental and ethical concerns remain more visible in Europe than in the rest of the world.

This is particularly true of Italy (40%) and France (37%), both agricultural powers where this awareness seems to be firmly rooted. Both populations also take these concerns to out-of-home catering, with 70% of French consumers and 80% of Italians expressing a wish for restaurants to exact corporate social responsibility and contribute towards sustainable development (with waste management and product sourcing at the top of the list).

On a global scale, Chinese consumers are taking stock of the challenges that lie ahead. Facing blame for the astronomical quantities of waste incurred by takeout meals, out-of-home caterers are taking action.

Corporate social responsibility

A number of waste reduction and anti-waste initiatives have been launched (disposable cutlery only available as optional extra, cardboard cups in coffee shops, where coffee-drinkers can also take their own cups).

In the United States, changes in consumer habits linked to a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have almost doubled, after previously being of almost no concern. 

Consumption goes green

Plant-based diets are continuing to grow in popularity, with an increasing uptake of a full “flexitarian” diet (a mix of being vegan and vegetarian, with the option to consume animal products). With excessive consumption of animal proteins regularly blamed for health issues, it is now being called into question for the pressure it places on the environment, and ethical concerns relating to the conditions in which meat is produced as a whole (particularly beef when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and animal welfare). 

In terms of out-of-home catering, 29% of Europeans prefer dining in establishments where the menu also offers vegetarian/vegan options.

Furthermore, plant-based substitutes for dairy products are still proving a hit with consumers. There is an increasing amount of innovation in this field in Europe and Asia, while the figures are falling in North America after several years on the rise. These products are consumed both at home (in drinks and dietary supplements) and out (drinks and vegan meals). A new development worthy of note is the emerging market of the dairy section, made up mainly of cheese products (fresh, hard, and grated).

The vegetarian offering is growing across all out-of-home catering circuits in France, but it is the fast food sector that’s leading the pack, accounting for 65% of orders for meals free from animal protein alone. The key to this success? An offering that has, for several years now, been adopting world cuisine (vegan sandwiches, poke bowls, soups, wraps), and more recently an offering of veggie burgers which are now available from the biggest players in the sector.

The road to a Climate Score?

Based on the Nutri-Score model, which focuses on nutritional benefits, we are now seeing initiatives appear that describe product performance in terms of corporate social responsibility: today, it’s the reduction of the carbon footprint, tomorrow it will include animal welfare. Whatever the issue at hand, clear specifications and regulations will be vital to avoid any confusion, in a field where consumers are demanding honesty and transparency.

Zero waste initiatives 

Because the best waste is waste that is never even produced, the fight against waste is emerging as an accessible and iconic behaviour as part of sustainable consumption.

It is also doubly effective, responding to both environmental and economic concerns. Consumers applaud the efforts towards corporate social responsibility made by industry players.

In homes, waste can be avoided through better storage of products (see the success of vacuum sealers), or by consuming products that are about to go to waste (interest in misshapen produce or produce that is about to expire). As for upcycled products (made using by-products), these are making a timid entry into stores (mainly in the dry biscuit section).

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