Food and Sustainability
Study on consumer choices in relation to food sustainability

For the European Commission (Executive Agency for Health and Consumers), and in collaboration with GFK, Ecorys and WUR, we investigated in 2015 consumer choices in relation to food sustainability. The research was carried out at the Milan Expo 2015 among EXPO visitors and examined two aspects related to sustainability: consumer use of sustainability information and food waste.

Consumer use of sustainability information was studied by means of an experimental field study carried out in the COOP Supermarket of the Future. In this supermarket consumers could look up product information through interactive displays (see figure 1). We investigated whether exposure to sustainability-related information in an innovative, interactive way translates into more sustainable product choices. The study showed that store visitors have stronger intentions to pay attention to sustainability information in the future, than non-visitors. But still, consumers consider price and nutritional values, rather than sustainability, the most important attributes to gather information on.


Figure 1. Interactive displays in the COOP supermarket of the future

The issue of food waste was investigated by means of two experimental lab studies. In the first lab study we investigated consumers’ decision to use or dispose non-perishable foods at various time points, and how this was affected by date marking: the presence of a best-before date, a production date or absence of any date on the food package. The study showed that understanding of the best before date (BBD) can be improved. Moreover, the study showed that before the BBD has been reached it seems better to have a BBD on products (less disposal) than no date or a production date. However, after the BBD is reached, consumers are less likely to throw out a food product if there is no date indicated on the label.

In the second lab study we investigated whether persuasive messages can be used as an alternative to diminish the need for price reductions on imperfect (strangely shaped) fruits and vegetables. If an anti-food waste message or authenticity message was provided (see figure 2), more respondents would buy imperfect foods, but at normal prices and thus preventing a drop in retailers’ revenues. Price reductions in combination with persuasive message frames are even more effective. Although, price reductions of imperfect foods are less necessary with authenticity messages as such messages increase willingness to buy and quality perceptions of imperfect foods.


Figure 2. Apple shelf with an authenticity message next to the imperfect apples, and a carrot shelf with an anti-food waste message next to the imperfect carrots.


Publication of the food and sustainability project:

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