Global Trends 2020

Climate change, food and sustainable behaviours

Climate change is putting pressure on brands to appear sustainable, but also creating massive opportunities for them.

A focus on sustainability is leading more people worldwide to embrace a ‘flexitarian’, vegetarian, or even a vegan diet. For most people this is about choosing food that is good for both their body and the planet.

For example, where plant-based food used to be niche a few years ago, today we see big players such as Danone, Nestlé and Unilever competing in this space. Even if people today are often sceptical about big companies getting involved in fighting climate change or promoting plant-based diets, there is a growing expectation for big companies to act.

Brands now need to make sure their offer contributes to personal health as well as community well-being and the planet’s long-term future. This could include linking products to the planetary health diet, recently launched by the EAT-Lancet Commission, where nutrition, health and climate are considered equally important.

There is of course a difference between people’s stated intentions and how they actually behave. Even where people are concerned about the impact of their food and drink choices, many purchasing decisions are still more automatic than thought through. Making the right thing easy and attractive to do, while understanding the implicit cues that signal to consumers that the products they buy are in line with their values, will be important. Labels and logos are an obvious option for signalling to consumers the intrinsic sustainability of a food product, for instance via well-known food labels (Vegan, Rainforest Alliance, etc), green packaging, or natural shapes and objects.

This is a more challenging exercise than you might expect. Sometimes these cues can reduce sales – for example, household cleaners are perceived as less effective when they are described as sustainable. Labelling a product ‘vegan’ can cause sales to drop by up to 70%. This explains why we have seen an up-take in the use of ‘plant-based’ to describe meat and dairy-free alternatives.62

‘Good-for-you’ products with an organic claim communicated by a logo are perceived as having a higher quality than conventional ‘good-for-you’ products, but the same logo can have a negative impact on the perceived quality of ‘vice products’ such as alcohol.63

As pressures on manufacturers and consumers increase in the 2020s, expect much more attention to packaging and manufacturing, and increasing consumer sophistication.

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The Future of Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people manage their health. It has challenged our medical systems and driven demand for new solutions. However, our data suggests these changes are not new but rather an acceleration of existing trends.