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Consumers Seek More Climate-Friendly Choices

Consumers are increasingly considering the environmental impact of the foods they purchase, and they expect manufacturers to take action to protect the environment, according to the 2023 Earth Day Survey from consulting firm Kearney.

This year’s survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers found that 42 percent of respondents reported always or nearly always considering environmental impacts when making a food purchasing decision, a new high and up 18 percentage points over last year’s survey. Another 35 percent said they sometimes consider environmental impacts, and the remaining 23 percent said they rarely or never take environmental impacts into consideration.

“We see a clear opportunity for food producers across the value chain to capitalize on the growing momentum of ‘climavorism’ and be a first mover in the market,” said Corey Chafin, partner in Kearney’s consumer practice and the study's principal author.

The report noted that climavores are not necessarily eating purely plant-based diets—they may be switching from beef to chicken to reduce their carbon footprint, for example.

In addition, the report found that price has gradually become less of an impediment to eating a more environmentally friendly diet, despite inflation. Only 46 percent of respondents in this year’s survey said cost was preventing them from choosing products that claim environmental benefits, down from 50 percent a year ago.

The report outlined four potential scenarios in which climate-conscious food choices could become mainstream:

1. Consumers become the catalyst for change: Shoppers could increasingly choose more climate-friendly products, driving changes in the market in much the same way they have increasingly chosen to eat more organic foods.

2. Government regulations force change: Similar to the way that political leaders are driving a transition to more climate-friendly vehicles, governments could begin to more tightly regulate the market, and incentivize certain practices in food production, which has an even greater impact than automobile emissions on climate change, according to the report.

3. Companies themselves could lead change: Investors could foresee growth potential in climate-friendly food production, which could pave the way for the entire industry to shift in that direction.

4. Climate change itself forces society’s hand: “Even without consumers, regulators or producers pushing climavorism, a change in diet may be forced upon us,” the report states, citing projections that global corn yield could fall by as much as 4 percent by 2030 due to climate change. That could have ripple effects throughout the food chain.

The report found that consumers believe the responsibility for a transition to more climate-friendly food practices ultimately lies with food producers. Asked who should be responsible for driving faster adoption of environmentally friendly food selections, 42 percent of respondents said “producers,” 32 percent said consumers should be responsible, and 26 percent said it should be the responsibility of governments or regulators.

When then asked to specifically identify what segment of the food value chain should be responsible for these changes, 54 percent of respondents cited food manufacturers, followed by grocery stores/retailers (25 percent), farmers (14 percent) and seed producers (8 percent).

These findings present opportunities for food manufacturers to “do well by doing good,” the Kearny report concluded.

“Consumers expect food companies to take action,” said Moritz Breuninger, principal in Kearney’s consumer practice and the study’s co-author. “This allows food companies that are already pursuing strategies to meet Scope 3 targets [emissions from the entire supply chain] to hit two birds with one stone.”

Related: PCC Stores Earn Green Building Certification; Retailers Work to Heal the Planet During Earth Month.