New research shows that sustainable food is gaining more traction with consumers

The latest report from the Dutch Agrifood Monitor indicates that environmental and social sustainability will become more important for consumers.
calendar icon 18 October 2021
clock icon 10 minute read

The latest Agrifood Monitor, which was presented during the opening of Dutch Food Week, indicates that sustainability will be increasingly important for consumers.

With regard to the food on their plate, people find fairness, animal welfare, environmental friendliness, and concepts such as transparency and natural and regional production more important than ever. This year is clearly different when compared to years past.

When choosing food, people used to primarily consider personal preferences such as taste and affordability. “These sustainability values have seen a relatively sharp increase and are clearly affecting prioritisation,” says Marleen Onwezen, researcher at Wageningen University & Research, who conducted the Agrifood Monitor commissioned by the Agri & Food top sector.

“We also see sustainability intentions. 60% of people appear to find sustainability product characteristics important when buying products. These include animal welfare quality marks, recyclable packaging, or a plant-based product. When we asked whether consumers would be prepared to pay more for sustainable products, 60% indicated that they would be willing to do so.”

Continued upward trend in appreciation for agricultural sector

The Monitor also shows that appreciation for the Dutch agrifood sector is continuing to grow. An increase was noticed in 2020 for the first time, which stabilised in 2021. Compared to other sectors, the agrifood sector is actually rated relatively positively. For example, Dutch people rate the agricultural sector as a whole higher than the pharmaceutical industry or energy companies. However, pig farming is rated less positively.

The rating given by the Dutch public primarily involves two matters: the feeling of connection with the agricultural sector and its contribution to the economy and employment. The perception of current events also impacts the rating: this includes farmers’ protests, coronavirus, and the nitrogen crisis. It appears that negative emotions about the farmers’ protests and nitrogen crisis caused people to have more negative views of the sector. It is worth noting that people who are very involved with the coronavirus have a greater appreciation of the Dutch agrifood sector, possibly because they are worried and are therefore looking up a great deal of information.

Centering farmers in the food story

For the Agrifood Monitor, researchers also conducted an experiment with four different products, with the challenge of how they can be used to strengthen the connection between farmer and citizen. Does it matter how you communicate about a farmer?

Onwezen: “Products are a good way to reach a lot of consumers. It has proved to be too abstract to merely indicate that it is a “Product by Farmer Hans”. It needs a bit more, such as a short story about the “love for his family, wife, and kids” or the “love for his work and product”. The latter has proven to be most effective to increase the rating for the sector as it is very relevant.” The appreciation of the agrifood sector can be strengthened by connecting people to local farmers through stories about their products and work.

What is the Agrifood Monitor?

The Agrifood Monitor is a recurring survey that has been conducted twice a year since 2012, and annually since 2020 by Wageningen University & Research. “The monitor is increasingly important to better understand trends,” says researcher Marleen Onwezen.

“As a result of the annual survey, we have more time for in-depth challenges. We want to understand the rating, look at trends over time, and provide suggestions on how the sector can further strengthen the rating.”

A representative panel of over 3,000 Dutch people is asked for their opinion of the agriculture and food sector. Unique to the Agrifood Monitor is that it brings to light differences between the agricultural sub-sectors, retail, and the feed and food industry over the years.

Additionally, the monitor indicates which factors underpin the rating and it provides recommendations on how to strengthen the social appreciation of the agriculture and food sector.

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