It is mainly companies that can realize sustainable and responsible production of food

The consumer is not enforcing sustainability

Pressure from the consumer on the business world to put sustainably produced foods in the shops is increasing, but the consumer is primarily putting the onus on companies to make the production chain more sustainable. This was discovered through the study done by the market research firm GFK over the period of 2009-2012 in the Netherlands, by commission of the development organization Solidaridad.

The consumer expects companies to produce in sustainable and responsible ways. It is striking, for example, that with the purchase of coffee, safe and healthy working conditions of farmers and a fair price are becoming more important.

Companies have to ensure sustainable change

For Solidaridad Executive Director Nico Roozen the results of this study are a confirmation of his position that the consumer is not going to change the market. 

“The first generation of quality stamps, such as Max Havelaar for fair trade and EKO for organic products play a positive role in the making the consumer more aware. For companies, the second generation of quality stamps, like UTZ and Rainforest Alliance are necessary, because these quality stamps enable companies to carry out their business in a socially responsible way and to make their own production chain more sustainable. The consumer does not have to change from the brands that he is familiar with, because ‘his’ brand will score better in terms of sustainability. Existing volumes will therefore become sustainable, which will create more impact.” says Roozen.  

Effect of quality stamps limited

The well-known consumer quality stamps, such as Max Havelaar for fair trade products and EKO for organic products, are only reaching a small group of people. For example, the market share of coffee certified by Max Havelaar has never reached more than three percent, and the market share for organic products is also staying structurally low. These quality stamps identify the preference of consumers with awareness, but are not broadening sustainability in the total market.

This means that only companies can ensure a sustainable and socially responsible production chain. GFK researcher Marcel Temminghoff: “Individual responsibility is being placed on a very low scale by consumers. They are putting the responsibility primarily on the business world (farmers, growers, companies) and on the government. The consumer wants to be able to assume that products are being produced in a safe and responsible manner by the companies themselves.”

35 Billion sustainable investments

Consumers who have a more than average concern regarding sustainability are spending 35 billion Euros on sustainable food products; that is 63% of the total amount of groceries.  Just a few years ago, that group was spending about 29 billion Euros. This is a considerable potential for sustainable products.

The importance of the environment and the well-being of farmers and animals is continually increasing for shoppers. The environment plays a role in whether or not to buy a product for nearly 20% of consumers. For animal well-being this is already more than 20%.

Sustainability can increase the value of a brand. Companies should consider sustainability as part of the quality of their brand and actually make this available to the consumer, the GFK study shows. Solidaridad concluded that sustainability is inevitable for the business world. Nico Roozen:

“The demand for food will be strongly rising in the next few decades.  More food has to be produced with fewer negative social consequences for people and for the environment. We therefore, along with companies, have to increase the production of farmers in third-world countries. The goal is to keep providing a varied supply of food products for the growing world population. ”