This is an exploratory study on consumer information and behaviour towards green, health, local, social and environmental credentials on labels. It focusses on many dimensions of sustainability in the food products that affect consumer choices with a dual purpose: to identify and define “sustainable consumption” behaviour in broad sense and to investigate empirically the factors affecting the real consumption behaviours. The purpose of this paper is to shed light on consumers’ understanding, motivation and use of sustainable labelling in order to understand the role sustainability information plays in the food products market.
Two focus groups in order to investigate consumer motivation and behaviour in-depth and to prepare the questionnaire. Identification of the outcomes that could summarize sustainable consumption combining: purchase of local products, consume only seasonal fruit, prefer products with recyclable packaging, attention to the fat content in foods, give importance to traceability and purchase products only in the place of origin. Identification of the “at risk” virtuous consumer, using a binary logistic regression approach, taking into account demographic characteristics, the food and nutrition value system, experience, knowledge, institutional factors and marketing.
Results from the focus groups are mainly in line with the empirical analysis, highlighting the key role of education in influencing consumer attitude and behaviour. Consumers give little attention to information provided on the label for sustainable food consumption and environmental protection and have little knowledge of environmental problems. The virtuous consumer appears to give importance to a better food nutrition value system, to pay more attention to ingredients and instructions on the label, to be more attentive to environmental and sustainable attributes, to be concerned about product quality and to be slightly influenced by brands and special offers.
The findings from the empirical analysis confirm the results from focus groups even if it was not possible from the empirical analysis to investigate in-depth the marketing aspects concerning the food choice. This limit probably comes from the low number of observations. Further research will focus on these marketing aspects.
Products with sustainable attributes can become a strategic variable and allow companies to gain a competitive advantage, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises. This may encourage the development of new marketing channels based on the direct relationship between producer and the new consumer demand, increasingly sensitive to the food security issues.
There is a potential interest and sensitiveness to having sustainable behaviour in a broad sense, but there is a lack of knowledge about how to behave to be sustainable. In the absence of binding rules, it is necessary that government promote information and campaigns to generate greater awareness on sustainability, aiming at increasing knowledge to drive the consumer’s choices. This may lead to virtuous results in terms of reducing social costs related to an unhealthy diet, food waste and unsustainable consumption.
The results show that despite the appearance of attention to the environment and to healthy food which is associated with this emerging critical consumer in the literature, there remains the problem of the consumer giving little attention to information provided on the label for sustainable food consumption and environmental protection. This is the problem of “rules of thumb” in purchasing decisions that prevail in the following situations: when consumers have an overload of information that exceeds their processing limits; when they tend to base their decision making on heuristics, focussing their choices on brands as a proxy for high-quality, product-related characteristics.
Mancini, P., Marchini, A. and Simeone, M. (2017), "Which are the sustainable attributes affecting the real consumption behaviour? Consumer understanding and choices", British Food Journal, Vol. 119 No. 8, pp. 1839-1853. https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-11-2016-0574
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