Consumer Understanding of Sustainable Packaging
Several studies have verified such consumer understanding of sustainable packaging. Results of a 2017 study indicated that consumers perceived bioplastic cups as highly sustainable, glass jars as second most sustainable, and dry carton sachets as the least sustainable packaging. The LCA measurements, however, contradicted these consumer perceptions. Bioplastic cups had the highest LCA impact, whereas dry carton sachets had the lowest LCA impact. Results of a 1996 study indicated that the consumer frequently ranked the sustainability of the package based on how it was used post-consumption. Reusable glass, plastic, and paperboard were ranked by consumers as most sustainable, and non-returnable plastics, plastic, and paperboard were ranked least sustainable. The origin or source of the product or how it was produced were not considered in the total environmental impact of the packaging. LCA tools, however, ranked paper and glass as having the highest environmental impacts.
Results of a consumer study conducted in Lithuania in 2021 on sustainability-related food labels indicated that Lithuanian consumers were not yet familiar with sustainability. The researchers recommended conducting educational efforts for consumers, who were very interested in health and nutrition, price-quality relationship, local sourcing of raw materials, production, and labels, and environmental sustainability. Similar results were obtained from a 2021 study out of Indonesia, where most consumers were also not well-versed in sustainability. The researchers saw a strong need for communication (corporate, social, and mass media) that will disseminate information on sustainability, improve food labels, and convince consumers to be active in green consumerism. In the U.K., where consumers are more aware of sustainability efforts, a 2015 study recommended that educational efforts emphasize the support of local sustainable consumption, because that support will lead to global sustainable development. Providing facts alone was insufficient and would result in ineffective marketing approaches.
Food Labels and Sustainability
Slovakia considers its practice of regional labeling to be a contribution to regional development and sustainability. Results of a 2020 study of local residents on eco-labeling indicated that consumers who were sustainability aware were mainly those who did not consider financial spending their top concern. But Slovakia confirms the potential of using regional eco-labeling to develop their agricultural and food industries.
The Czech food industry deals with more than 40 food labels in addition to those that meet food labeling certification schemes, including those that focus on sustainability. Results of a 2021 study of food producers indicate that, overall, consumers positively considered the labels certified by these schemes. The producers, however, did not realize their anticipated economic gains, competitive edge, and new markets. Among the recommendations presented were consumer educational efforts to strengthen awareness of and trust in labels.
Food Waste and Sustainability
Capitalizing on the perceived strong relationship between sustainability and food waste in the minds of the consumer, researchers conducted a study in 2019 to determine the volume of food waste generated if the “best before” phrase on food labels was eliminated, as proposed by the European Union to simplify food label dates. Results indicated that consumer reactions significantly differed in all the Italian regions studied, erring on the side of food waste when there was no best-before marking on food labels. Italian consumers were surveyed because they were considered more knowledgeable about expiration dates than the other EU28 citizens.
In 2019, researchers also found that consumers in The Netherlands wasted less food when, during their planning and purchasing, they consciously focused on food waste. Their results also indicated that less food is wasted as the consumer gets older.
Private Brands and Sustainability
In the past, U.S. consumers considered legacy brands to be trustworthy. They depended on legacy brands for the food quality that they expected and consistently obtained. Prior to the new millennium, legacy brands introduced many new products and distributed them rapidly, exerting a strong influence on the U.S. consumer food culture. The focus then was on quality attributed to the brand, appearance, and nutritional content. Loyalty to the legacy brands was high.