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Consumers and Sustainability: Food and Beverage


Attention: There is an updated edition available for this report.

This report forms part of a series jointly published by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts on Consumers and Sustainability. This four-part series covers in separate reports the markets for foods and beverages, personal care products, household cleaners, and OTC medications and supplements.

Sustainability means different things to different people. Asked to identify what the term means to them, consumers most frequently respond “the ability to last over time” (76%) and “the ability to support oneself.” Sustainability is also strongly associated with environmental concerns, whereby consumers are being challenged to develop and express an “eco-consciousness” in their daily habits and purchases. Thus, nearly half of consumers associate sustainability with conserving natural resources and with recycling.

But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the term. “Green” falls short as a description for the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe are important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large. Adoption of sustainable products mirrors the health and wellness progression that The Hartman Group has previously reported, in which consumers first consider the impacts of things in the body, followed by on the body, and finally around the body.

As consumers become more educated about the environmental, social, and economic implications of their shopping habits, their health and wellness motivations dovetail with societal concerns, such that four zones of sustainability become relevant to purchasing choices:

  • The Personal Benefit Zone
  • The Environmental Zone
  • The Social Zone
  • The Economic Zone

All of these zones are salient to the food and beverage category, which is central to consumer perceptions of sustainability. In fact, many of the attributes that generally describe quality eating experiences, particularly freshness, also resonate as sustainable in the food and beverage category.

Measurement of consumer purchasing of sustainable products across 20 food and beverage categories shows a range of adoption rates among sustainability-minded consumers, and a range by product category in willingness to pay a 20% cost premium for sustainable products. Nonetheless, while sustainability consumers have certainly modified their behavior in response to financial conditions, tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely to be made in product categories that sustainability consumers view as essential to their quality of life, including food.

To balance the agenda to save money with the commitment to buy sustainable goods, for example, many consumers are shifting purchases of these products to discount outlets such as Walmart. At the same time (and in response), supermarkets are upping the sustainability credentials of their private-label lines, opening up another pathway to sustainable-at-a-discount shopping. Retailers are also stressing sustainability options outside of the packaged good aisles, notably local produce and bulk merchandise. At the current intersection of sustainability awareness and financial downturn, the market is ripe for food products that allow consumers to shop more sustainably and spend less money.

Read an excerpt from this report below.

Series Methodology

This report series was jointly produced by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts, and is based on The Hartman Group’s 2009 multi-category study, Sustainability: The Rise of Consumer Responsibility. In addition, Packaged Facts provides an update of consumer attitudes and spending based on a proprietary online poll conducted in February 2009 and on Experian Simmons surveys fielded from November 2008 to June 2009.

The Hartman Group Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

This report draws primarily on an online survey of 1,856 U.S. adults conducted in September 2008 by The Hartman Group to understand consumer attitudes and behaviors related to sustainability. The sample was drawn from a panel of adult U.S. consumers with Internet access, and was designed to provide good representation of the U.S. population according to geographic area, age, gender, race and income. The Hartman Group also conducted qualitative research on sustainability in three markets (Seattle, Dallas, and Columbus) during August 2008, using consumer ethnography with fifty consumers as the cornerstone of qualitative research. Ethnographic interviews included one-on-one conversations at an individual’s home or at a specific retail setting, as well as group interviews also at consumers’ homes. These engagements garnered more than 100 hours of in-depth, revelatory consumer discussion.


Market Insights: A Selection From The Report


Consumers Remain Receptive to Organic and Natural Foods

Similarly, Experian Simmons shows no significant change in propensity to purchase organic or natural foods between winter 2007/08, before the economic collapse, and spring 2009. As shown in Table 5-3, the percentage of adults who agree a lot that they look for organic or natural foods edged down only slightly from 12% to 11%, but the percentage who agree a little held steady at 14%.

In addition, as shown in Table 5-4, one-fourth (26%) of the adult respondents to a Packaged Facts online survey conducted in February 2009 indicated that they frequently buy certified organic food and beverage products, with nearly 20% agreeing a little that they do so and 7% agreeing a lot. Similarly, one-third (33%) of respondents indicated that they are usually willing to pay more for organic food products, with quarter of adults (26%) agreeing a little that they do so and 7% agreeing a lot.

Projected Market Growth

As reported in Packaged Facts’ Natural and Organic Food and Beverage Trends in the U.S. (September 2008), retail sales of natural and organic foods are projected to grow at an 8% annual rates through 2013, reaching $19.6 billion in that year. While sales of natural and organic foods are not immune to the recession, the growing consumer interest in and commitment to sustainable products will continue to spur solid growth for this market. (Table 5-5)

In the News


What Motivates Consumers to Choose Sustainable Food and Beverages?

New York, August 17, 2009 — Market research firms Packaged Facts and The Hartman Group have joined forces in a collaborative partnership that will result in a series of four reports each deciphering the attitudes and behaviors of sustainable goods consumers in relation to specific consumer products.  The pair proudly unveils the first market study published in the four-part series: Consumers and Sustainability: Food and Beverage.

The food and beverage market is central to consumer perceptions of sustainability. When the consumption of sustainable foods is motivated by personal benefits, adoption mirrors a health and wellness progression in which consumers first consider the impacts of things in the body, followed by on the body, and finally around the body. Therefore, as consumers become more educated about the environmental, social, and economic implications of foods and beverages, their health and wellness motivations dovetail with societal concerns, such that food shopping choices become salient to the four zones of sustainability:

  • The Personal Benefit Zone
  • The Environmental Zone
  • The Social Zone
  • The Economic Zone

“Consumers view the food and beverage category as key to sustainability, perceiving organic and locally grown foods, fair trade products and the ethical treatment of animals as ways to positively impact their community and the world,” says Tatjana Meerman, Publisher of Packaged Facts.  “In addition, ‘freshness,’ although not technically contributing to sustainability, is considered important because foods and beverages that are closest to their natural state appear to have a direct connection to the earth.”

Sustainability consumers have modified their behavior in response to economic hardship; however, tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely to be curtailed for products these consumers view as essential to their quality of life, most notably in food.  So marketers are responding by upping the sustainability credentials of their private-label lines, opening up another pathway to sustainable-at-a-discount shopping. At the current intersection of sustainability awareness and financial downturn, the market is ripe for food and beverage products that allow consumers to shop more sustainably, but also spend less money.

Consumers and Sustainability: Food and Beverage assesses the attitudes and purchasing behaviors of consumers related to sustainability drawing from an online survey of 1,856 U.S. adults consumers conducted in September 2008 by The Hartman Group, as well as qualitative research on sustainability in three markets (Seattle, Dallas, and Columbus) during August 2008.  The other three reports in the series will focus on: OTC medications and supplements, personal care and household cleaners.

About Packaged Facts - Packaged Facts, a division of Market Research Group, publishes market intelligence on a wide range of consumer market topics, including consumer goods and retailing, foods and beverages, demographics, pet products and services, and financial products.  Packaged Facts also offers a full range of custom research services. 

About The Hartman Group - The Hartman Group, located in Bellevue, Washington, blends leading-edge customized research and consulting to understand the subtle complexities of consumer behavior. Since 1989, Hartman Group has been listening loudly to the underlying motivations and behaviors that move the needle for our clients.

  • Methodology
    • A Joint Publication of The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts
    • The Hartman Group Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
    • About The Hartman Group, Inc.
    • About Packaged Facts
  • Sustainability & the American Consumer
    • Establishing a Definition of Sustainability
    • Sustainability Concerns and Purchasing Decisions
    • A Consumer-based Model of Responsibility
    • Experiential Triggers
    • Informational Triggers
    • The World of Sustainability: Core to Periphery
    • Motivations and Barriers to Purchase
      • Convenience
      • Price
      • Expert Opinion
      • Experience
      • Knowledge
        • Table Motivations and Barriers for Sustainable Purchases
  • Foods, Beverages, & the Sustainability Consumer
    • The Food Market and the Zones of Sustainability
    • Personal Benefit Zone of Sustainability
    • Environmental Zone of Sustainability
      • Organic
      • Local
      • Gardening
      • Vegetarianism
    • Social Zone of Sustainability
      • Local Satisfies Desire for Connection
      • Humane Treatment of Animals
    • Economic Zone of Sustainability
      • Buying Local
      • Fair Trade
    • Product Adoption, Purchase Criteria, and Packaging Issues
      • Product Adoption Patterns
      • Freshness is Foremost
    • Purchase Criteria
      • Table Purchase Criteria for Sustainable Foods and Beverages
    • Packaging Issues
      • Table Dos and Don'ts for Sustainable Food and Beverage Packaging
    • Quantitative Findings on Sustainable Food and Beverage Purchases
      • Table General Food and Beverage Categories and Corresponding Sustainable Versions
  • Summary and Key Insights
    • Foods Are Central to Sustainability
    • Tenets for Package Communications
  • Market Update
    • Responses to Economic Downturn
    • Sustainability Convictions Largely Unchanged by Recession
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Opinions, Winter 2007/08 Through Spring 2009
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Behaviors, Winter 2007/08 Through Spring 2009
    • Consumers Remain Receptive to Organic and Natural Foods
      • Table Patterns for Agreement With Statement, "When Shopping for Food, I Especially Look for Organic or Natural Foods," Winter 2007/08 Through Spring 2009
      • Table Percent Agreeing with Selected Psychographic Statements on Natural or Organic Foods, February 2009
    • Projected Market Growth
      • Table Projected U.S. Retail Dollar Sales of Natural and Organic Foods and Beverages, 2009-2013
    • Local and Bulk: Beyond the CPG Aisles

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