KANSAS CITY — More than 50 million consumers are engaged in the climate change debate, but there’s little evidence they link consumption of animal protein to rising global temperatures. The Center for Food Integrity (C.F.I.) analyzed millions of online conversations in real time and found most consumers currently are mired in the debate over whether climate change exists. Less than half are focused on causes and solutions.
The Kansas City-based non-profit predicted consumer attention will shift in the next two years, with the conversation on causes growing 260% and the conversation on solutions growing 202%. The debate about whether climate change exists is expected to grow just 3.6%.
The findings are in line with the growing interest in sustainability, said Terry Fleck, executive director at the C.F.I.
“Those interested in causes and solutions want to bring about change by taking action on a personal level and being the change,” he said. “They also fear making uninformed choices, want to protect the American way of life, and look to science and innovation to provide solutions.”
Consumers are not talking about a link between consumption of animal protein and climate change, according to C.F.I.’s research. They are, however, talking about the link between greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production and climate change. The number of consumers concerned about livestock production is projected to grow from 26 million to more than 54 million by 2021.
“While ‘local food’ is not associated with improving climate change, key topics associated with ‘local food’ and ‘improving climate change’ include beef industry topics like cattle farming, beef consumption, industrial agriculture, environmental footprint and water use,” Mr. Fleck said. “These topics are more related to causes than local food production to improving climate change.”
As consumers seek information about sustainable business practices and the food industry’s environmental impact, opportunities exist for brands to communicate climate change commitments via technology.
“Provide balanced information, share third-party studies and give them a forum to engage with you on the topic,” Mr. Fleck said.
Companies tend to focus on ingredient sourcing when communicating sustainability initiatives. It is also an area of focus for consumers. Previous research from C.F.I. found close to a quarter of Americans are actively engaged in online conversations about sustainable sourcing. Most of them were white, middle class and between the ages of 25 and 54.
“Picture a socially conscious consumer who considers themselves a ‘cool foodie,’” Mr. Fleck said. “It’s someone who doesn’t shop in traditional supermarkets — but purchases beef raised without antibiotics from a specialty butcher, always chooses cage-free eggs and dines at trendy restaurants where organic food is prominent on the menu.”
Lumina Intelligence examined more than 900 industry commitments and found third-party certification standards such as the Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance still dominate industry pledges. Certified sourcing attracted more food and beverage industry commitments than any other issue in 2019, including company program sourcing, like Mondelez International’s Cocoa Life program or Barry Callebaut’s Chocolate Forever plan.
Other areas of focus include water and emissions reduction. Opportunities exist for brands to highlight food safety, traceability, poverty reduction and animal welfare initiatives, all of which currently account for less than 2% of commitments. Other areas that may drive engagement include packaging, deforestation, energy and public health.
Brands may also increase awareness and engagement by suggesting sustainable practices consumers can adopt at the individual level.
“They want to play a part in improving our planet and ‘be the change,’” Mr. Fleck said. “We encourage the food industry to do its part to empower them.”