49% of consumers are considering sustainability when buying food and drink, according to new research from Kerry.

The survey of over 14,000 consumers across 18 countries shows that consumers’ expectations are “rapidly evolving, with a growing number demanding increased sustainability benefits from their food and beverage products”.

This means that typical associations with sustainability such as packaging and environmental preservation are now considered to be “standard” for consumers, according to Kerry.

Consumers, particularly those in more “sustainability-mature markets, such as France, UK and Benelux” are now considering this issue as something that “directly impacts them, and upon which they can have an impact”.

The areas in which they feel they can have an impact most are food waste reduction, personal health and nutrition management and in purchasing clean label claims such as ‘locally sourced’, ‘no artificial ingredients’ and ‘organic.’

‘Critical moment’ for sustainability

Sustainability is a priority for consumers around the globe, with the research revealing that 84% of consumers believe it is important for each person to contribute to it.

However, three in four relegate the primary responsibility to the industry. The largest barrier to adopting sustainability remains consumers’ lack of understanding of their personal impact on the planet.

Commenting on the study results, Soumya Nair, insights director with Kerry said the survey findings have “major implications for the food and drinks industry – as we are clearly at a significant and critical moment regarding sustainable nutrition”.

“This research has unveiled some really surprising results that have positioned sustainability as a must-have rather than a differentiator among consumers,” Nair said.

“These sustainability-minded consumers are actively seeking out food and beverage products that have a significantly positive impact on the planet as well as on their personal health and wellbeing, seeking products with clean label claims and locally sourced ingredients.

“In addition, the different expectations between consumer demographics shows how consumers expect companies to do more outside of issues such as sustainable packaging, carbon emissions and water conservation.”

Kerry found that interest in sustainability varied across cohorts, with ‘older millennials’ ( born between 1980 and 1989) more likely to be “deeply engaged” with the issue.

Meanwhile, ‘followers’ – most likely to be younger millennials and Gen Z (born 1999 to 2004) – are engaged and willing to act, but expect manufacturers, brands and external authorities including governments to take the lead in tackling sustainability issues.