The Rise of the Ethical Consumer and Why Businesses Need to Follow
The human population is rapidly increasing. According to the UN, it may reach 9.7 billion by 2050, which is expected to increase food demand between 59 to 98%. As a result, agricultural markets will be impacted in ways we haven’t seen before. Farmers will have to increase agricultural land or enhance productivity, which still may not be quick enough to meet the forecasted demand for food. Climate change-driven water shortages, increasing global temperatures and extreme weather changes will also have a major effect on food production. To address this, an increasingly circular approach to food production is required – from sourcing the right ingredients to packaging and waste management.
At the same time, conscious, ethical consumers are shifting from their established approach to shopping and want to know more about how and where their food is being produced. Ethical sensitivity is being incorporated in the way food is produced and consumed and is becoming a major factor in determining where consumers spend their money. As consumers are demanding to know more about their food, food supply chains need to become fully transparent about their processes and suppliers and businesses need to provide accurate product information to build long-term customer relationships.
Recent research by YouGov suggests that consumers are reducing their meat and dairy consumption, with plant-based diets becoming more mainstream. Animal welfare is the biggest concern for ethically conscious consumers, followed by health and environmental awareness -- consumers increasingly want to buy products from brands that are socially responsible, sustainable and ethical and they are likely to stop buying products from brands whose practices and views conflict with their own.
According to Mintel, nearly 50% of consumers state an avoidance of certain foods in their households and 56% are proactively reducing meat, seafood, eggs and diary, with key motivators being improved health, cost savings and the environment. While consumers are not sticking to a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet, their buying behaviours are changing due to the new levels of awareness and emerging new food options. Flexitarians are consciously reducing meat consumption and increasing their plant-based food intake to help the environment and maintain a healthier lifestyle. The flexitarians are here to stay, and food producers and retailers need to adapt to the new attitudes of the ethically conscious consumers.
The 2019 Delloite Global Millennial Survey has found that among 20 challenges facing society that most concern respondents on a personal level, climate change and protecting the environment topped the list. Millennials also gravitate towards environmentally conscious businesses who are not only doing what’s profitable for business but focus on the right thing to do. For businesses this means that being environmentally and socially conscious will not only increase their popularity, but more importantly sustain the future for people and the planet. Just look around you and see what successful businesses are championing – Tesco is on a mission to reduce food waste, Coop is fighting water poverty, Amazon wants to be 50% carbon neutral in the coming years – just to name a few.
The shift towards flexitarian and plant-based diets is mostly driven by younger generations but is quickly gaining traction across all age groups. In contrast to the cattle industry, which is responsible for 51% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, 91% of the Amazon deforestation and water pollution, a plant-based diet requires 16 times less land usage, 13 times less water and produces 50% less CO2 emissions. Research suggests that avoiding or at least reducing meat and dairy products is the most effective way to improve our environmental impact on the planet and care for our own health.