Just half of people worldwide (53%) find buying healthy and sustainable food easy according to a new global consumer research survey conducted by GlobeScan, an insights and strategy consultancy, and EAT, the science-based non-profit for global food system transformation.
However, the biggest obstacles for those who find it difficult to buy healthy and sustainable food is affordability (48%) and availability (36%), with a quarter of people saying that they don’t know what healthy and sustainable food is.
The findings featured in this new report, Grains of Truth, look at the opinions of over 30,000 consumers in 31 markets around the world about their definition of good, healthy, and sustainable food. The survey also asked people about other issues including their biggest concerns about food production and the challenges they face purchasing healthy and sustainable food, as well as who can have the biggest positive impact in creating a more healthy and sustainable food system. This research has been carried out as part of the activity around the United Nations Food Systems Summit, where EAT has led Action Track 2 focused on shifting consumption toward sustainable patterns.
While many people struggle with understanding what healthy and sustainable food is, there is also an understanding that the two terms have different meanings. The most popular descriptions of healthy food are nutritious (47%), organic (47%), and unprocessed/whole (44%). For sustainable food, the top three descriptions are good for the environment (51%), organic (42%), and locally grown (34%).
Different generations have similar views on sustainable food, but there are differences when it comes to healthy food. Gen Z are most likely to describe healthy food as tasty and nutritious, while Baby Boomers associate it with unprocessed/whole and locally grown food.
When considering some of the issues of the food system, the two biggest concerns are use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers (81%) and single-use plastic waste from food packaging (78%). These are closely followed by hunger and obesity, with 76 per cent of people saying that they are concerned about both issues. These concerns are supported by the fact that one in 11 people are chronically hungry and that a third of the world’s population is overweight. The issue that people are least concerned about is the transportation of food.
Perhaps surprisingly, concern about each of the issues tends to increase with age, with Gen Z on average being the least concerned and Baby Boomers the most concerned. From a regional perspective, consumers in Latin America, Africa, and Southern Europe express the strongest concerns about the food system.
Nearly half of consumers (46%) believe that the responsibility to make positive change to create a more healthy and sustainable food system lies with national governments. Over a third (37%) think food and beverage companies are best placed to achieve this, while 23 per cent see people like themselves being able to influence positive change, and one in eight (15%) see young people as powerful agents of change.
Speaking about the research, Dr Gunhild Stordalen, EAT founder and executive chair, said: “There is a lot to be encouraged by in this research – with people around the world understanding the important role they can play in changing food systems through their own consumption patterns. But there are also still huge amounts to be worked on by both governments and food manufacturers – it is these actors that consumers see as holding the power and that consequently they will listen to. And crucially, even though people want to move to more healthy and sustainable eating habits, they currently do not believe they can because in their view, product prices are either too high or difficult to find. This is something policy makers, retailers, and manufacturers need to work on and improve, so we can all work together on driving healthier consumption patterns.”
Chris Coulter, chief executive of GlobeScan said: “This timely research provides a roadmap for consumer expectations for a sustainable food system. Demonstrating environmental integrity is a definer of sustainable food for people around the world and there are very high levels of concern for a range of issues affecting the food system, from pesticide use to plastics, to obesity, to impacts on nature. In addition, consumers hold government and business especially responsible for delivering a sustainable food system.”