Bridging the Gap Between European Consumers and Sustainability: Leveraging Consumer Behavioural Insights and Local Realities into more Inclusive and Smart Solutions!

The urgency of moving towards more sustainable food systems, including sustainable food consumption patterns, has led to a number of initiatives aimed directly or indirectly at European consumers and supported by different formats and actors in the food sector.

Consumers’ willingness to eat healthier and more sustainable food has increased, but there are still major barriers to achieving such patterns. While awareness of the issue and consumer interest have increased, there is evidence that we are still lagging behind when it comes to a broader shift towards more sustainable food consumption patterns.

Currently, in the market, there is a proliferation of approaches that aim at providing food related information to consumers: from labels and green claims, marketing and advertising, education, to other softer communication means at point of sale, such as nudging, change of defaults, priming, etc.

Additionally, consumers are targeted with food information through both traditional and digital media. Depending on the interests of various actors, consumers can be exposed to large amounts of information and conflicting narratives as to what their (sustainable) food consumption patterns should look like. The consequence is often confusion and distrust on the consumers’ side.

The most recent Green Claims Directive aims to rectify the situation by streamlining and improving the quality of information provided to consumers and increasing the transparency of information development processes. As such, it holds great potential to revolutionise food sustainability communication to consumers and support a real shift towards sustainable consumption. Crucial to the success of the Green Claims Directive is that it is properly understood, accepted and embraced by the relevant stakeholders.

However, it is well known that information alone, while helpful in raising awareness, does not necessarily lead to actual behaviour change. This is due to the widespread assumption that people are completely rational when processing information and making decisions. A premise that is being challenged by practical findings on consumer behaviour. When choosing food, consumers consider factors that are much easier for them to grasp. Evidence, including from our CSCP project Valumics, shows that Europeans’ food choices are driven by factors such as food safety, price, health, habit, culture and other product quality attributes. Attributes that promote sustainability are present but do not rank high in consumers’ list of priorities.

This raises the necessity to explore the different ways of informing consumers, taking into account the dynamic relationship between the personal factors that determine food choices and the context in which they are made (i.e. the food environment in which consumers make these choices). In addition, the appropriate and effective communication of food sustainability information in clear and explicit terms, using frameworks and language that are closer to consumers’ actual values and realities, needs and/or desires, is equally important for the successful integration of sustainable practices into consumers’ everyday food consumption behaviour.

The CSCP is already adopting such approaches and creating insights from a local perspective and experimenting with various forms of information provision to consumers, for example in our projects PSLifestyle & LIKE A PRO. Throughout our different projects and work streams, we work toward developing new methods and processes to better understand consumers in order to also learn what is required to empower them to adopt more sustainable food consumption patterns. We work with different actors and support them in this process through shaping strategies, raising capacities, and testing solutions in practice and leveraging the right partnerships -a cornerstone towards enabling systemic change!

Get in touch with us and let’s accelerate the shift towards sustainable food consumption patterns together!

For more information, please reach out to Arlind Xhelili.