Consumer Survey: Climate Change and Food Production

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When many of us hear the term climate change, we think about changes in the weather and how human activity impacts our environment. Many consumers, as uncovered in IFIC’s previous research, also think about the environment when shopping for foods and beverages. Our latest survey dives deeper into climate change specifically as a factor in consumers’ minds when considering what foods to buy and, ultimately, to eat.

IFIC’s new consumer research survey, “Climate Change and Food Production,” which was fielded on April 9th and 10th, provides unique insights into how consumers consider their concerns about climate change with food purchase decisions. Here are some key takeaways:

Most people are concerned about climate change, and these concerns affect their food and beverage purchases. More than 70% of survey takers noted that they were at least somewhat concerned about climate change. Of those who said they were concerned, over half (52%) said these concerns sometimes impact their food and beverage purchases and nearly one in five (19%) said these concerns always impact their purchases. People under age 45, those living in the western U.S., and those who are college-educated were more likely to be very or somewhat concerned about climate change, while those in the 65+ age group were more likely to say that climate change concerns never impacted their food and beverage purchases.

Most are concerned about food production’s impact on climate change, and consumers care about “the how.” Two out of every three people (67%) are at least somewhat concerned about the impact of food production on climate change (34% are very concerned; 33% are somewhat concerned). An additional 17% are “a little concerned,” while just 13% are not at all concerned. When we asked consumers to rank what they believe plays the largest role in our food system’s impact on climate change, we saw that how food is processed (49% ranked in their top three choices) and how food is grown (48%) were top concerns, followed by how food is packaged (37%). Trailing closely behind was consumers’ concerns about what happens to food waste (34%). Despite being the age group most concerned about climate change, people under 45 years were less likely than other age groups to believe that how food is processed and how it is grown play large roles in food production’s impact on climate change.

Consumers believe reducing greenhouse gases and pesticide use would be most effective for lowering climate change consequences. Survey takers were asked what they believed to be the top three practices that would most reduce food production’s impact on climate change. Among the top-ranking choices were reducing greenhouse gas emissions (34%), reducing pesticide use (33%), and reducing food waste (27%). Notably, only 10% of consumers thought that increasing the use of biotechnology would reduce food production’s impact on the climate, with a higher percentage of men (13%) than women (8%) choosing this option.

Food packaging is a key part of the climate change conversation. When asked about purchasing behaviors, four in ten said they purchase food and beverages with recyclable packaging, roughly one-third (31%) aimed for foods with less packaging, and about one-quarter (23%) looked for products with compostable packaging. Just 14% said that food packaging doesn’t impact their purchasing decisions, making clear that how foods are provided to consumers is an important component of their perceptions of its environmental footprint. Different food packaging options are also seen as effective for reducing food’s impact on climate change: recyclable packaging (20%), compostable packaging (20%), reducing food packaging (19%), and reusable food packaging (17%) were top options for about two in ten survey takers.

Many look to “natural,” “organic,” and “locally produced” labels to shape perceptions of a product’s impact on the climate. These food labels were ranked highest for conveying a positive impact on climate change, with each ranking in the top three for over four in ten (42%) survey takers. Twenty-nine percent said that a “Non-GMO” label conveyed a positive climate change impact, while just 8% said the same of a “Bioengineered” label. And while labeling is clearly important for many, nearly three out of ten (28%) said that none of the label options presented conveyed a positive impact on the climate.

Consumers want environmentally friendly products, but category and cost play a role. Six in ten consumers seek out environmentally friendly products in at least some parts of their lives, with food and beverages the top category for doing so. Nearly eight in ten (79%) of those who said they seek out environmentally friendly products said that they looked for food and beverages that fell in step with this category, with women more likely (86%) to select this option compared with men (70%). Many also make environmentally friendly cleaning supplies (68%) and clothing (37%) a priority. It’s clear, however, that many factors play into peoples’ purchasing decisions. When presented with a theoretical scenario in which a favorite product was less environmentally friendly than an alternative with the same taste, 35% said they would buy the more environmentally friendly option, while 29% said their decision would depend on the cost of the alternative. Thirteen percent said they’d continue to buy the item that they’re most familiar with, and 10% said their decision would depend on other factors.

METHODOLOGY

One thousand interviews were conducted among adults ages 18+ from April 9th to April 10th, 2020 and were weighted to ensure proportional results. The margin of error was ±3.1% at the 95% confidence level.