Purpose-Driven Food Consumers Target Group Developments During COVID-19

April 2022

The brand perception and reputation of the company is the most common reason for investing in sustainability according to Euromonitor’s Voice of the Industry survey. But what happens to this motivator during a pandemic, when values and priorities shift? Sustainability strategies need an update to align with the social priority in the new normal.

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Key findings

Target group with green attitudes grew throughout pandemic, but engagement plummeted

While the share of consumers worried about climate change grew in 2021 and 2022, COVID-19 replaced climate change as the immediate societal concern during the pandemic. Popularity of activities such as recycling and reducing food waste has plummeted and the willingness to pay more for products with specific environmental claims such as non-GMO has decreased significantly. Meanwhile the share of consumers willing to pay more for foods with vaguer and more holistic claims such as sustainably produced or eco-friendly has increased.

Consumer priorities in sustainability have shifted from green to social

COVID-19 put a spotlight on companies’ treatment of employees and this people-centred priority order has affected the way consumers perceive sustainability. The data in 2022 confirm a long-term priority shift from green to social that was first noted in 2021. As a result, “supports local communities” was the food and drink claim with the fastest growing influence.

Higher-income consumers remain willing to pay a sustainability premium despite pandemic-related economic downturn

17% of global consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally-conscious or eco-friendly food and drinks. These consumers have continued donating to charities and prioritising sustainable food and drink during the pandemic. Willingness to pay a sustainability premium increases with income, signalling that the high-income premium-paying consumer segment remains willing to give and pay sustainability premiums - even during economic downturns.

Companies need to communicate social external value

Without throwing out progress made in environmental sustainability performance, companies need to align sustainability priorities with the shifting priorities among purpose-driven consumers, from green to social. The boom in influence of social product features such as “supports local communities” opens a new avenue for exploring ways to measure, certify and communicate these values.

Introduction

Scope
Key findings

What has been the Effect of COVID-19 on Consumer Preferences?

Growth in number of respondents engaged with environmental action
Free and money-saving activism for the environment most common
Environmental activity engagement has plummeted
Booming engagement with some social actions during the pandemic
Globally declining room for charitable giving hurts sustainability premium
Donation popularity in developed markets goes against global decline
War in Ukraine contributes to a further priority shift in Europe from green to social
The long-term trend towards greater social attention
Fewer consumers willing to pay than the share influenced
Meat reduction trend remains strong in key markets

Is Food Labelling Keeping up with Consumer Demand?

Little correlation between supply and demand of environmental claims
Fairtrade carries additional cost and is mostly used for premium products

Outlook

Inflation unlikely to impact willingness to pay sustainability premium
Cost-efficient sustainability measures secure traction among mid-segment
Companies need to align CSR strategy with consumers’ shifting priorities

Appendix

Overview of Lifestyles survey
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