Nowadays people are increasingly paying more and more attention to the environmental impact of everything they do on a daily basis, from the food they buy at the supermarket to the way they go to work and on vacation.

What are the actual figures for these trends? We are launching a whole series of articles to cover these figures. The results are promising!

1. How important is “sustainability” in our shopping bags?

1.1. Switzerland

When it comes to buying food, there are numerous aspects we all consider in making the final choice: quality, seasonality, origin, availability, and of course, price. Now, how important is for swiss consumers that the product is “sustainable” versus everything else? A research conducted by Deloitte (1) in Switzerland shows the following results:

  • 79% of the Swiss consumers surveyed say that sustainability concerns have some degree of influence on their eating habits, while the average across the EU is 59%.
  • 55% believe that the supply side (which includes food producers, retailers and wholesalers) is responsible for the achievement of sustainable development in the food and nutrition sector.
  • 62% of consumers would like to have more information about the impact of their shopping bag has on the environment and on society.
  • 52% of respondents inform that their main obstacle for eating more sustainably is the higher cost of sustainable food.
Vente d’aliments Bio dans le monde de 1999 à 2018 (en milliards de dollars)

Consumer tendencies on sustainable food (1)

1.2. What about the rest of Europe?

A survey coordinated by BEUC (2) showed some interesting insights on food choices across Europe:

  • Perception: even though most consumers are aware of the environmental impact of food practices in general, they tend to underestimate the impact of their own food habits on the environment.
  • Willingness to change: 2/3 consumers are open to changing their eating habits to be more sustainable.
  • Meat: over 40% of consumers say they have either stopped eating red meat or have reduced their consumption due to environmental concerns. That is almost ½ people!
  • Government role: only 16% of consumers feel that their government is doing enough to encourage food sustainability in terms of consumption and production.

We can see that a change in consumers’ eating habits in favor of the environment is happening, as more than 60% of Europeans want to start (or have already started) eating more sustainably. This is great! However, in order to succeed people will need more information, more options and more clarity when it comes to sustainable food products and choices. The main barriers to overcome are the following:

  • Price: sustainable options tend to be more expensive. BUT, is the real price of un-sustainable and junk food available?
  • Lack of knowledge and unclear information: there is not enough information about sustainable nutrition (32%) and food labelling does not imperatively cover sustainability (30%). There are initiatives that address this issue but they are not mandatory just as the nutrition information is in the food industry.
  • Limited choice of sustainable options: according to the report, this is what most consumers say prevent them from eating more sustainably. In Switzerland, almost two-thirds (64%) of people would like more wide-ranging offerings of sustainable food from the retail trade.

2. In this context, how is changing the way we eat and cook?

A powerful transformation that has been developing over the last few years is the change on people’s eating habits. Vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians keep multiplying all over the world, willing to take care of their health and the environment, as well as animal welfare.

Globally, the flexitarian population (people who try to limit their animal product consumption) is the most significant, approaching 25%. They are the ones driving the shift from animal towards plant-based diets.(3)

2.1. Spain

Following plant-based diets is not so new, but this trend continues to spread rapidly in a progressive way (4):

  • 30% of people have been having a veggie diet for 1-3 years, 25% for 3-5 years and 20% for 5-10 years. However, 17% changed their diets less than a year ago.
  • 22% of vegetarians had previously followed a flexitarian diet, 42% of vegans had previously adopted a vegetarian diet and 13% a flexitarian diet. Moreover, more than half of the people who follow a flexitarian and vegetarian diet are willing to go for a vegan diet.

What about age? It is true that younger people are more likely to change to a plant-based diet, but the following numbers may surprise you:

  • 44 % of the flexitarian population is aged 25-34 and 27 % is 35-44.
  • 44 % of the vegetarian population is also in the 25-34 age range, but unlike the flexitarian population, the second largest group (29 %) is the 18-24 age group.
  • Also for the vegan population, 44% is aged 25-34, 25% is in the 35-44 age range, surprisingly enough, and the 18-24 age group accounts for only 17%.

Another interesting fact about the Spanish veggie population is that the majority is female: 83% of flexitarians, 87% of vegetarians and 79% of vegans.

2.2. Europe

A research conducted in 2021 in Europe concerning 5,300 shoppers showed these results regarding eating and shopping habits (5):

  • More than 50% of non-vegan people in Germany are aiming to reduce their consumption of animal products.
  • More than 80% of vegetarians want to become vegan.
  • Vegan alternatives to milk are the most purchased type of alternative products
  • 1/5 Europeans is already flexitarian and more than 1/3 can conceive eating lab-grown meat and cheese.

In general terms, the study shows that most Europeans have (or intend to) become flexitarian. They represent the majority after omnivores, reflecting the increased awareness on climate change and health issues.

Vente d’aliments Bio dans le monde de 1999 à 2018 (en milliards de dollars)

Dietary habits in different European countries (6)

2.3. Switzerland

Here are the results for a survey about vegetarians and vegans in Switzerland in 2021 (7):

  • In 2021, there were 5% of vegans and vegetarians in Switzerland
  • Around 1% of people were vegan : 83,3% women and 53,8% with a higher education degree.
  • 1,2% of people aged 14 to 34 years old were vegan, while they only represented 0,2% of people aged 55 and over.
  • Almost 25% of flexitarian people
  • 53% of vegetarians said they would buy organic food whenever possible and 58% would buy food with a fair trade label.

3. Nevertheless, this is NOT ENOUGH What can be done? Or NEEDS TO BE DONE?

How can each stakeholder in the food chain make a contribution? Here are some of the points made by Deloitte’s study (1) :

3.1. As a producer/provider

  • Take advantage of the demand for sustainable food: retailers can benefit from the influence of sustainability on consumers’ habits, and the should listen to their needs in order to sell a wider variety of sustainable food products.
  • Facilitate the change towards more sustainable eating habits: there are certain ways of making it cheaper to eat more sustainably. For example, switching from conventionally produced meat to plant-based meat substitutes enables consumers to spend less money while protecting the environment. Watch-out the nutritional balance as some alternatives are really NOT HEALTHY.
  • Reduce food waste: it is key to consider all the waste generated in all the food chain and identify the best practices for each case.
  • Show consumers the added value of sustainability: consumers should be informed about the impact of what they’re buying, so that they can be willing to pay the difference compared to regular products. We can also expect an economic system that penalizes “unsustainable products” and helps financially sustainable producers, which results in having sustainable products available from a “pricing” perspective.
Vente d’aliments Bio dans le monde de 1999 à 2018 (en milliards de dollars)

How CO2 emissions from the supply chain differ by food product

3.2. As a policymaker

  • Make food’s environmental and social impacts information mandatory: clear, transparent and independent information needs to be available for consumers about raw food products, food services, restaurant menus and restaurants’ global sustainability levels the same way it’s done for nutritional values.
  • Reflect real costs in pricing: environmental and social costs tied to the life cycle of food should also be reflected on the price. These additional costs can be identified and informed on food packaging in order to help consumers make sustainable choices. Same for menus and restaurant’s sustainability level.
  • Educate the public and raise consumers’ awareness: it’s essential that people are educated about the different impacts that food products have, starting with carbon emissions, environmental pollution and fair trade, to the use of pesticides and food waste.
  • Design incentives for sustainable agriculture: more than two-thirds of consumers (69%) believe that subsidies and other incentives for agriculture should encourage more sustainable food productioni. Policymakers should also consider a number of factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, pesticides and soil erosion.

3.3. As a consumer

  • Look for information: considering that one of the biggest obstacles for eating more sustainably is the lack of information, one must take the time to look for the data that is already available. As an example, if you look for facts about climate change on Google Search, they’ll show you material from reliable sources such as the United Nations.
  • Follow a healthy diet: a healthy diet will not only make you feel better and improve the quality of your life but will also be beneficial for the environment. For instance, healthy means also a limited amount of calories and therefore a limited amount of resources to produce, transport, etc. these calories. Also, diets with a smaller amount of calories from ruminant meat (like cows and goats) can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions while remaining nutritionally adequate (8). The same applies for most animal products. According to scientists, avoiding meat and dairy is the most effective way to save the planet by reducing our carbon footprint: “If everyone on Earth would switch to plant-based diets, 75% of the world’s farmland would be freed up and emissions from food systems would be cut in half.(9)

 

The EAT-Lancet Commission has presented the ‘planetary healthy diet’ that aims to drive a change towards plant-based eating: “a global shift toward healthy diets, improved food production practices and reduced food loss and waste”. According to the report, moving to a healthy diet would prevent around 11 million deaths a year (which is equivalent to 19 to 24% of total adult deaths).(10)

Vente d’aliments Bio dans le monde de 1999 à 2018 (en milliards de dollars)

Scientific targets for a planetary diet, with possible ranges, for an intake of 2500 kcal/day (10)

  • Start with sustainable snacks: there are ready-to-eat sustainable options than can be incorporated into a busy lifestyle almost effortlessly. “Look for snack providers who are investing in recyclable packaging, carbon offsetting and a shortened supply chain, so as to reduce the impact of transportation while keeping ingredients fresh and preserving their flavour, to explore all the climate benefits of these products.(11) Or you can just find some organic nuts or a fresh (ideally organic, local and seasonal) fruit. These will avoid all the transformation and transportation impacts
  • Change your ingredients: there is a whole new world of innovative options that can be used in more eco-friendly cooking, for example:
    • Algae: they are carbon-negative, sustainably sourced and good for your health, as they contain essential fatty acids, high vitamin and antioxidants.
    • Cacti: the edible varieties are rich in vitamins C and E, carotenoids, fiber and amino acids.
    • Uncommon grains: diversifying the sources of carbohydrates with grains like amaranth, bulgur, quinoa and freekeh will provide you with more nutritional value and also help improve soil health and preserve biodiversity. Of course, don’t forget to always privilege local products.
  • Shop mindfully and reduce food waste: food waste reduction starts with giving a little thought to what we buy when we go grocery shopping. To avoid food from going bad in the first place (and also to save money), it’s essential to manage our supplies wisely, plan our meals and buy only what we need. Tip! There are many apps helping consumers in many cities share food items for free in order to reduce food waste in the household. Other apps are helping restaurateurs manage their waste, and of course Too Good To Go.
Vente d’aliments Bio dans le monde de 1999 à 2018 (en milliards de dollars)

Reasons for food waste by private households (2)

Vente d’aliments Bio dans le monde de 1999 à 2018 (en milliards de dollars)

Environmental impact of food loss along the Swiss food value chain in trillions of eco-points (EPs). This includes losses in foreign supply chains of food consumed in Switzerland (consumption perspective). (12)

All in all, there are a lot of things we can do from our place in society. What is important to remember is that every little action holds the potential for great impact.

With all these in mind, all we want to say is that the trends are here. The market is ready. Now we all we need is to have everyone on board and act. With the smallest action, if we are all in, we will see a global positive impact. And please, remember that the recommendations are to be integrated little by little. This is how it lasts in the long term. Last but not least, in the equation, it is a must, we need room for INDULGENCE and PLEASURE. That is mandatory in any “sustainable”, long lasting, positive impact approach.

Next article we’ll continue with more interesting figures.

EcoCook® team