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Title: Understanding consumer attitudes to sustainable food
Author: Clonan, Angie
Awarding Body: University of Nottingham
Current Institution: University of Nottingham
Date of Award: 2011
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Sustainability has become fundamental to many global policy agendas in areas relating to human impact on the earth's resources, such as food production and consumption. In the UK, the former labour government devised 'Food 2030', a strategy document stipulating sustainable production and consumption as priority issues for food policy; however this has not been incorporated into guidance for consumers. Additionally, current dietary guidelines concerning meat and fish are in direct conflict with environmental interests. Amidst this ambiguity, Sustain: 'the alliance for better food and farming' provides advice to citizens seeking to consume food more sustainably. This study seeks to assess consumer attitudes towards some of the issues associated with sustainable food, particularly in the context of current dietary intake and purchasing behaviour. Method(s) Adopting a qualitative approach with 11 adults, based on a consumer focussed framework for understanding sustainable food, a structured self-completion postal questionnaire was developed. This explored regular shopping habits, attitudes towards sustainable food across a variety of sustainability related issues, for example animal welfare, local food, organic food, fish, packaging, seasonal food, Fair trade, bottled water and food transport. Dietary intake was assessed, and respondents reported 'sustainable food' purchasing behaviour. Finally some information was noted on participants' socio-demographic characteristics. A final sample size of 842 was achieved. Results Findings suggest that consumers are largely positive in their attitudes towards 'sustainable food'; however some issues such as local food assume a higher priority for respondents than others, for example organic food. Some notable socio-demographic characteristics are observed, such as the trend for older consumers (>60 years of age) to hold more positive attitudes towards sustainable food. There is also an association between respondents reporting healthier dietary intakes and holding more positive attitudes towards sustainable food. Further relationships are observed between attitudes towards meat, consumption and purchasing data. Respondents largely agreed (88.5%) that animal welfare was important when buying meat, however when consuming meat, women were significantly more likely (P<0.0l) than men to report consuming less but also to be concerned over the source of meat (P<0.00l) and animal welfare (P<0.05). In the key area of fish consumption, over half of participants (57%) were aware of the health benefits of fish consumption and reported health as a primary motivator for purchasing fish; however, only 26% actively sought to purchase fish from a sustainable source (i.e. Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fish). Only 30% of participants met current dietary recommendations for fish intake. Older respondents (>60 years of age) were more likely to report purchasing fish for health reasons and to buy MSC fish. Participants were significantly less likely to report MSC purchases if they were confused about which type of fish I should be eating to protect fish stocks (P < 0•001). Purchasing data reveals participants stated priorities when buying food, and in particular the reported preference for 'local' food over other 'sustainable' options. Conclusions This research contributes to the field by providing an enhanced understanding of how consumers view different components of 'sustainable food'. Additionally, relationships were observed which were previously unreported, for example, positive attitudes to 'sustainable food consumption' and a healthier dietary intake. Furthermore, results show links between attitude, consumption and reported purchases in key areas of 'sustainable food' consumption such as fish and meat, which provide an insight into tackling the issues from a consumer perspective. These findings are helpful in considering how to develop guidance to enable consumers to make more sustainable food choices, but also from a food policy perspective, in terms of considering which policy options may require further support, e.g. local food systems. Recommendations for Future Research Future research could replicate all or part of this study in another UK or European locality, or indeed further afield, to explore the role that geography and culture have on 'sustainable food' perceptions and behaviour. Further qualitative work could explore the link uncovered between healthier dietary intakes and holding more positive attitudes towards 'sustainable food', and additionally investigate some of the socio-demographic associations observed such as age, for example to explore the influence that different life stages have on 'sustainable food' perceptions and behaviour.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available