The public is becoming tired of insubstantial sustainability buzzword usage and is shifting towards products and brands that align with their changing preferences, Linda Lichtmeß, consultant at Euromonitor International noted at FiE:
“Consumers are becoming more skeptical and less willing to pay for brands that lack transparency or engage in greenwashing - transparent communication is crucial to engage consumers effectively.”
Defining Sustainable Nutrition
Sustainable diets consider environmental impact, promote food and nutrition security, and contribute to the well-being of current and future generations, according to the United Nations.
These diets prioritise low environmental impact, respect biodiversity and ecosystems, and are culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair, and affordable. Additionally, they aim to be nutritionally adequate, safe, and healthy, while optimising the use of natural and human resources.
Yet while “sustainability” is an all-encompassing term, Lichtmeß explained that Euromonitor's research indicated that businesses in the food and beverage industry primarily associate sustainability with reducing environmental impact alone.
But as Lichtmeß adds, there is potential misalignment between consumer expectations and business actions:
“Most consumers do care, with 64% of global consumers reporting to be worried about climate change.
“They are trying their best, and have been doing their bit, but they're increasingly worried about greenwashing and not being able to make a big enough impact as individuals.
“So now, they’re looking for solutions from regulators and businesses.”
Advice for Brands
“Corporations have made misleading claims or underdelivered on sustainability initiatives for years,” but increasingly discerning consumers are beginning to see through these “deceptive antics,” the 2024 consumer trends report from Euromonitor notes.
The report suggests that for the consumer, simply offsetting carbon emissions isn’t thorough enough, although from a brand perspective, accurately mapping carbon footprints is complex as it involves measuring direct and indirect emissions (including upstream and downstream value chains), and is also extensively regulated.
Euromonitor advises that “investing in long-term energy-efficient measures can be a cost-cutting strategy,” which can act as an incentive to “partner with the right suppliers to avoid future penalties.”
It adds: “Eco-friendly operations could have an immediate effect on your bottom line.”
The report suggests that any sustainability initiatives are worthwhile as part of a brand’s marketing plan, noting that companies should “share concrete evidence of responsible business practices” and demonstrate sustainable impact with specifics, such as the amount of waste saved in production on recycled packaging.
“That way, shoppers immediately know how their purchase decision or behaviour makes a difference.”
The report highlights that stricter regulation is enforcing that brands adhere to honest claims, with the European Union issuing legislation to prohibit the use of claims like ‘climate-neutral’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ without proper accreditation.
The provisional deal was approved on November 28th, with the final plenary vote by MEPs expected to take place in January.
Assuming the the directive will come into force, member states will have 24 months to incorporate the new rules into their law.
Brand sustainability incentives
With regulation changes and increasing consumer awareness, brands are continuing to prioritise sustainability.
Martin Walter, category manager at Gelita, explained to NutraIngredients at FiE: “We are looking into reducing our environmental footprint, starting with how we produce energy in our plants, how we make use of different sources, like how water is used in production and chemical use. We’re aiming to become neutral at some point.”
For plant-based functional ingredients supplier Beneo, the question of health and sustainability is all part of the same solution, corporate sustainability manager Nathalie Sadin explains:
“We acknowledge that true health and well-being are only possible on a healthy planet. This is why we treat nutrition, health, and sustainability as three sides of the same coin.
“We are aware that providing nutritious ingredients that are backed by sound science for the food and feed industry is only possible thanks to Earth’s resources.
“Therefore, a crucial element of our sustainability efforts lies in our long-term partnerships with farmers, providing services and consultancy, and promoting regenerative agricultural practices, to support resilient farming and supply chains.
"Only by considering the entire value chain, from farm to fork, can we truly support the transition toward healthier food and feed that nourishes us while also helping to sustain our planet.”
However, Sébastien Bornet, vice president of global sales and marketing at Horphag Research (supplier of French maritime pine bark extract ‘Pycnogenol’) explains that for them, sustainability has always been inherent to the brand, stating: “We have not waited for sustainability to become a trending topic.
“When we started to produce Pycnogenol 40-50 years ago, we used a byproduct of the timber industry, the pine tree bark, so there was never any additional damage.
“Now, cut trees are replaced with seedlings and the entire process is completely sustainable - we don’t use any pesticides or herbicides in the forest.
“This isn’t something we said ‘Well, let's just add a green label to Pycnogenol as a brand’, we did it from the start.”