Nestlé finds 73% of consumers say sustainable dining needs promoting

Nestlé Professional research has revealed that almost three quarters of UK consumers think cafes, restaurants, pubs and fast-food chains could do more to support and promote sustainable diets on their menus.

And with 71% saying they would be likely to choose sustainable options if they were available, this presents a big opportunity for food operators to adapt - to meet consumer needs and to make a lasting impact on the environment.

Surveying consumers across the UK who regularly eat out – at takeaways, restaurants, café and pubs – Nestlé Professional’s research provides a timely snapshot of rapidly changing attitudes towards sustainability in the food service industry.

The research highlights opportunities for food service sustainability, enabling operators to adapt in-line with consumer tastes and environmental legislation.

Spanning key areas including plant-based diets, sustainable sourcing and responsible use of resources, consumers pinpoint opportunities for food operators to improve, outlining ways to encourage more sustainable meal choices.

They also talk about their expectations and buying decisions regarding sustainability, with more than half (63%) willing to pay a premium for sustainable options when dining out.

Conscious consumers
82% of UK consumers now agree sustainability is important when they’re choosing what to eat and drink. The top five areas where they consider sustainability when making food and drink choices are: minimising food waste (40%), local sourcing (39%), minimal and/or recyclable packaging (33%), reduced single-use plastics (31%), and lower carbon footprint (31%).

They’re happy to pay a premium for sustainable products too, with consumers saying that they would be prepared to pay slightly more for food and drink products that are locally sourced (31%), have reduced single-use plastics (30%), minimise food waste (29%), or have minimal and/or recyclable packaging (26%).

Dining out, consumers expect a premium on sustainable options; however, 37% say that these choices shouldn’t be more expensive. There’s hesitance around trying sustainable dishes too, with consumers asking for familiar recipes and a chance to try before they buy: 28% requested sustainable versions of popular dishes and 28% free samples or testing events.

But there's a consensus that raising awareness of sustainable options through better communications and marketing could improve take-up. Respondents requested improved marketing for health (17%) and environmental (16%) benefits, cross-product promotions (17%), and more informed front of house staff (16%).

Plant-based diets
Consumer attitudes are shifting. Vegetables and legumes are becoming more popular, with 39% and 24% of consumers looking to up their intake over the coming months. Another 22% are looking to eat more plant-based meat alternatives, and 19% more plant-based dairy in the coming months.

Most are conscious about their menu choices and 58% choose plant-based or vegetarian options when they eat out: sometimes, often, or always.

Dining out, however, they could be persuaded to eat more plant-based if they were offered dishes with: improved flavour and texture (30%), free samples or taste testing events (25%), more variety (23%), or plant-based alternatives to popular meat dishes (20%). For food operators, this translates into greater innovation, reworking classics with meat alternatives, and more promotion around plant-rich dining.

Despite the popularity of plant-based diets, only 55% think they’re more sustainable than meat and dairy products - and 35% said they’re the same or less sustainable. When asked, 71% of survey respondents said carbon footprint was important when choosing sustainable food and drinks.

This represents a chance for food operators to sharpen up communications on the carbon footprint of meals – addressing poor knowledge and encouraging sustainable choices.

Sustainable sourcing / responsible use of resources
Minimising food waste is critical, with 82% considering this important when making choices. Packaging also continues to be a hot topic, with single-use plastics important in buying decisions for 74%, and minimal or recyclable packaging important for 79%.

Responsible sourcing and animal welfare are another key concern, with 77% of consumers concerned with animal welfare, and 76% agreeing that responsible production in farming, fishing and agriculture are of importance.

Many of these would pay a premium too, and 31% agreed that they would pay slightly more when purchasing food and drink products that protect animal welfare.

Sourcing and seasonality are rising up the agenda, with local sourcing important to 72% of consumers, and seasonality important to 65% when choosing sustainable food and drinks.

Katya Simmons, Managing Director Nestlé Professional UK&I, said, “These findings show a sizeable gap between what consumers want and what they're currently being served by the industry.

'Despite this, the areas highlighted for improvement can be easily implemented by food operators. And as well as injecting a welcome boost of creativity in their operations, the benefits are wide-ranging – improving staff morale as well as increasing customer loyalty.

'Consumers are looking to the industry for change, and although 43% admitted culpability for making sure their diets are sustainable, almost a quarter (24%) said it is also the responsibility of food operators.

'To help operators respond to this pressure, we’ve developed a knowledge base, which consolidates our expertise and consumer insight on sustainability issues impacting the industry right now.

'This research highlights the urgent need for the industry to get up to speed, and with advice spanning all of the key areas mentioned, we hope this plays a valuable part in that change.”