Inflation a barrier to sustainable food shopping – quantilope

inflation vs sustainability - Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

For years we’ve had it under control, but now inflation has reared its budget-busting head again, new research reveals it is very much on consumers’ minds.

There’s a conundrum though, because, nearly three quarters of British consumers strongly agree that protecting the environment is one of the most important issues of our times and, as a result, want to shop more sustainably. 

Half of the population are trying to include some sustainability practices into their shopping and are satisfied with their actions. 

However, with fast rising inflation and the worst cost of living crisis facing the UK in a century, the decision about which food brands and products to purchase is ultimately led by price for the majority (79%) of shoppers.

Inflation barrier

In fact money, or lack of with rising inflation, is a barrier to adopting more sustainable shopping practices for more than half of shoppers, with just one in five making planet friendly choices that prioritise sustainable packaging (20%) and buying products with local ingredients (19%).

inflation nation - Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
Barriers to sustainability: Inflation has consumers now thinking twice when doing their weekly shop.

These are the key findings of new research, 2022 Consumer Trends in Sustainability, launched by quantilope, the research platform that automates advanced research methodologies.

Quantilope surveyed 600 consumers in the UK to better understand changing attitudes towards sustainability; looking specifically at how it was influencing food choices and whether there were any barriers to more planet-friendly shopping behaviours.

Not a complete waste

David Attenborough’s Plastic Oceans film in 2016 painted a bleak picture about the damage plastic waste was having on the planet and it acted as a catalyst for change in consumer attitudes, but not always behaviour, particularly when faced with the price of making change.

Quantilope’s survey finds that today most people want to actively reduce waste, and therefore their climate footprint, with one in three shoppers saying they are more likely to buy products that have sustainable packaging. 

A total of 77% of shoppers actively attempt to reduce waste and more than half (51%) plan to buy less plastic. 

Some plastic packaging is inevitable of course and one third of survey respondents claim to separate waste for recycling.

Moreover, 34% are even willing to pay more taxes if they are used for environmental protection purposes; though 39% are not and 27% are neutral.

One third of shoppers are so concerned with the future of the planet that they do more than anyone else to reduce plastic in their purchases, separate waste and recycle the plastic they do sometimes have to buy.  

These Waste Warriors are strongly focused on factors that have a direct environmental impact such as reducing plastic in the ocean and biodegradability; they  have a zero-waste attitude. 

As a collective, Waste Warriors are typically within the age bracket of 40 to 49 years.

Compared to other segments quantilope identified in its study, they are more likely to be University educated, small city or sub-urban dwellers and earn a slightly higher income than average. 

They strongly believe that protecting the environment is one of the most important issues of our time.

eco shopping - Image by justynafaliszek from Pixabay
Conscientious consumers: Some shoppers remain committed to saving the planet with their food shop.

“Our research paints an interesting picture of how attitudes to sustainability impact food choices,” said Peter Aschmoneit, CEO and Co-Founder of quantilope. 

“While consumers expect brands to take responsibility for the sustainability of their products, they are more than willing to do their bit to save the planet. 

“However there are barriers that need to be removed, or reduced, to make sustainable behaviours easier; money is the biggest barrier with uncertainty about what is sustainable and limited access to sustainable products also reducing sustainable actions.”

Ingredient Inspectors

More than half of shoppers check the ingredients on the package (56%) and in store information and displays (53%). 

One third are so rigorous about what’s in their purchases that they check for certifications on the package (33%) and look for direct sustainability claims (34%). 

These Ingredient Inspectors are primarily focused on the content of the food that they buy and choose vegan and vegetarian products. They are more likely than other segments to buy local, believing that this can have a positive influence on the planet. 

While they are concerned about the planet, they are not avid recyclers, being more skewed to concerns about sustainability and health.

They want to ensure that what they buy is healthy and sustainable – organic, natural and antibiotic and chemical free. Money isn’t a barrier, but time and effort is.

Organic choices - Image by Devon Breen from Pixabay
Organic choices: Many shoppers are making organic health conscious picks with their food shopping.

“There is broad acknowledgement that money, time and effort make being more sustainable a challenge,” said Aschmoneit. 

“The two most popular actions that people currently take – reducing waste and using reusable shopping bags, require little time, effort and no specialist knowledge; demonstrating that when the action is easy to slot into everyday life, people are happy to take it. 

“With rising inflation threatening disposable income, it is critical that manufacturers understand how changes they make to product pricing and packaging can impact consumer decisions.

Brands that will be best placed to win in the future, recognise that not all consumers are the same and have different attitudes around sustainability. They can’t use a one-size-fits all approach. 

“They need to address the sustainability concerns of consumers, tailor their approach and communicate what they do clearly and without making them pay too much of a premium.”

Other research highlights:

  • Broad Brushers – one third of the survey respondents dip in and out of range of sustainability concerns and actions as it suits them. They are more likely to be swayed by price.
  • Do no gooders – Only 1 in 10 people are not at all interested at all in sustainability, but this may be due to confusion about what being ‘sustainable’ means. .
  • Specialist stores – 1 in 5 shoppers (25%) buy sustainable products from a specialist store, suggesting that there is perhaps room for retailers to expand their sustainable product ranges.