10 ways consumers think the food & drink industry can improve sustainability practices

We asked UK consumers about their biggest struggles when it comes to being environmentally friendly and the ways they would like the F&B industry to support them. Here's what they said...

Sustainability is a big issue – especially for the food and drink industry. And despite current global events, the need to drive more eco-friendly practices isn’t going away.

In fact, with COVID-19 leading to shortages of some staple items, it’s shown us just how important a sustainable supply chain is. 

Our Future of Food & Drink Sustainability Report found that consumers are starting to understand the role that food and drink production plays in global warming and the majority do want to make the right choices. But they can’t do it alone – they’re relying on manufacturers and retailers to help them. 

We asked* 1,000 UK consumers about their biggest struggles when it comes to being environmentally friendly and the ways they would like the F&B industry to support them. Here are 10 top takeaways from the report.

*Nationally representative survey of working-age consumers, carried out in January 2020.

64.5% of people are confused by recycling logos on packaging

There are loads of different recycling logos that appear on packaging and 64.5% of people admit they find them confusing. People aged 41-65 are more likely to struggle to distinguish between these logos; only 31% think they have a good understanding of the logos versus 40% of younger people. 

74.2% of people find the different numbers on plastic packaging confusing

A recycling logo that often has British consumers scratching their heads is the mobius loop with a number inside. There are seven different plastic resin codes but most local authorities only accept a few. More than 74% of people say they find this confusing (26.3% are very confused). 

55.5% of people would “definitely look” if a food’s carbon footprint was shown on its packaging

Our data highlights some large gaps in knowledge when it comes to understanding the carbon footprints of different foods. But the vast majority of people (88.2%) say they’d be interested in a labelling scheme to help them learn more. Nearly 56% say they would “definitely” look at this labelling, while a further 32.7% “might” look. 

47.5% of people would purchase unpackaged products 

Nearly 48% of consumers say they would purchase unpackaged products, bringing their own containers to fill, if the facility was available at supermarkets. Waitrose has been trialling this concept and is encouraging its customers to give it a try by selling unpackaged products roughly 15% cheaper. 

49.3% of people would return packaging for money off or a refund

The government is working on a deposit return scheme for drinks containers and it’s something nearly 50% of people say they would make use of. The government’s proposed scheme enables shoppers to collect a refund when returning plastic bottles and cans, but some retailers are offering other incentives, like money off the next purchase.

Future of food & drink sustainability report

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30.5% of people would seek out fast food restaurants and coffee shops using proper crockery and cutlery

Food-on-the-go creates a lot of waste and many eateries are guilty of failing to offer reusables even when customers are eating in. But 30.5% of people say they would appreciate fast food restaurants and cafes where they could sip from a ceramic cup and eat with metal cutlery. 

41.2% of people would pay a deposit to borrow cups or containers

Carrying cups and containers can be inconvenient, which is why just over 41% of people would appreciate the option to borrow them. Cup and container deposit schemes require shoppers to pay a deposit, which they get back upon returning the item. 

38.4% of people would use in-store collection points for plastic bag recycling

Most UK local authorities don’t accept plastic bags in household recycling collections. However, larger supermarkets have started to offer recycling facilities. More than 38% of people say they would make a point of returning plastic bags to in-store collection points if they were available nearby.

33.5% of people support the provision of public composting bins 

Very few households have a home compost heap and not all local authorities operate food or garden waste collections. A third of consumers want collection points for industrial composting to be made available. 

15.9% of people are prepared to pay for single-use items like cups and cutlery

Nearly 16% of people would make use of disposables if they were available at a cost. While it’s better to simply not have single-use items, when it’s necessary to provide them, levying a charge could raise money to offset their carbon footprint. 

Want even deeper insight into the challenges and opportunities of sustainability in the food and drink industry? Register for our webinar on 6 May 2020 sustainability 101: the future of food & drink.

Bel Booker

Senior Content Writer 

Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 125 million global consumers. She also likes cake.

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