Irish consumers under the age of 35 increased their consumption of dairy produce during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to new research.

This research, based on a survey of over 2,000 Irish adults and released today, Monday, June 22, by the European Milk Forum, also shows that price and nutritional issues rank above climate concerns when it comes to purchasing food.

Almost 40% of Irish consumers under the age of 35 increased their milk, cheese and yogurt consumption since the onset of Covid-19 restrictions, with families and households seeking more nutritional value; local produce; and assurance of quality during “uncertain times”.

The research shows that the carbon footprint of food and sustainable packaging were only listed as a factor in dairy product purchases for 10% and 19% respectively of the respondents. Price, nutritional value and healthiness ranked as higher considerations for considerably more people, at 46%, 34% and 31% respectively.

However, 79% of respondents did say that the way we produce and consume food “needs to change” for the “preservation of our planet”.

92% of respondents agreed that dairy produce are part of a sustainable diet, and the same number agreed that country of origin was an important factor when purchasing dairy products. 88% said Irish dairy products are superior to dairy products produced elsewhere in the world.

The research was carried out as part of the European Milk Forum’s ‘Sustainable Dairy in Europe’, which is aimed at increasing understanding of consumers’ perceptions of sustainability, climate change and how these issues relate to the dairy sector.

In these unprecedented times, it is heartening to know consumers are seeking out dairy products because they know they can rely on their natural nutritional value and they can be assured of the quality of locally-produced Irish dairy.

“Almost all consumers [88%] say that Irish dairy produce is superior to other countries’ produce, and [82%] want the Irish dairy sector to be successful and supported into the future,” noted Zoe Kavanagh, the chief executive of the National Dairy Council (NDC).

She continued: “The survey also tells us that an overwhelming majority [96%] believe in climate change; and believe that we can prevent all or the most serious consequences of climate change [91%].”

57% of respondents said that the responsibility for “creating a more sustainable future” in the sector lay with the production sector; 49% said that consumers should be primarily responsible; and the same figure said that politicians should be primarily responsible.

“With only two in five consumers [42%] feeling well-informed about sustainability, it is clear there is a lot of work to be done by stakeholders right across Government, civil society and industry,” Kavanagh stated.

Ireland already has the most efficient production system in the EU, with low levels of carbon emissions, due to our grass-based and family farming systems.

Kavanagh highlighted that farmers are already undertaking actions on-farm to reduce their impact on the climate.

She concluded her remarks by saying: “Looking to the future, recognising the carbon capture potential of our grasslands and hedgerows, and differentiating between biogenic methane and carbon dioxide, are key issues that could provide significant climate and industry benefits.”