Sustainable food increasingly important

October 9, 2021

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/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 Agri & Food sector is continuing to grow. An increase was noticed in 2020 for the first time, which stabilised in 2021. Compared to other sectors, the Agri & Food 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 Agri & Food sector, possibly because they are worried and are therefore looking up a great deal of information.

The love of farmer Hans

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 Agri & Food sector can be strengthened by connecting people to local farmers through stories about their products and work.

More fruit and vegetables

Bread, fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products are consumed most often. Meat and animal products such as dairy are still predominant, while alternative proteins such as meat substitutes, seaweed, tofu, pulses, and fish are consumed a lot less. Onwezen: “People state that they would like to eat more fruit and vegetables. Seaweed and insects are a step too far for many people (about 5%), but there is a greater willingness to eat fish, pulses, nuts, seeds, and meat substitute (about 18-20%).”

The 2016-2021 period also shows a slight upward trend in flexitarians, vegetarians, and vegans. Onwezen: “Flexitarians increased from 3.5% to 7.3%, vegetarians from 3.5% to 4.9%, and vegans from 0.6% to 2%.” What is interesting is that people who adhere to a lifestyle, such as vegetarian or vegan, are less positive about the Agri & Food sector than people who do not adhere to a lifestyle.

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 3000 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. The research is financed by the Agri & Food top sector and is developed and conducted in collaboration with the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.