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Communicating Food Sustainability to Consumers: Towards more effective labelling

  • Published on May 22, 2022

This report reviews the literature on the drivers of consumer food choice, with a focus on the role of food sustainability information. The objective was to identify both theoretical and empirical evidence on the impact of eco-labels and other sustainability information tools on consumer food choice, with a view to informing existing and future initiatives to promote more sustainable food consumption.

Shifting demand for food towards more sustainable consumption is increasingly recognised as necessary to address the climate and biodiversity crises. More sustainable food consumption will deliver substantial benefts, given that food production is the leading cause of habitat loss, the largest user and a major polluter of freshwater, while food systems account for around one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Influencing consumer choices is not a total solution but an essential part of strategies to build sustainable food systems. Growing evidence reveals that both human health and the environment would beneft from adoption of more sustainable diets. This means not just encouraging consumers to choose particular food products that are credibly verifed as having been produced with less adverse environmental and social impacts, but shifting people’s overall diets towards lower impact consumption while also reducing food waste.

The specifc objectives of this report are to:

  • Investigate the general drivers of consumer food choice, as well as specifc drivers of sustainable choices;
  • Identify the sources of information consumers rely on when choosing food, with a focus on the role of eco-labels and other tools intended to distinguish more sustainable foods;
  • Explore how different consumer segments respond to sustainability information presented at different levels, in different formats, and across major markets or geographies, with particular attention to the impact of information on climate change (carbon emissions) and biodiversity impacts; and
  • Examine how consumers’ stated food sustainability preferences compare to their observed behaviours, what factors explain the gap between intentions and actions, and how to bridge that gap.

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