CONSUMER INTEREST in environmentally friendly and sustainable food production spiked during the pandemic and is predicted to form part of the efforts to rebuild a green economy.

Recent reports found that food transparency, local sourcing and ‘immunity’ eating are key drivers for consumer purchasing decisions, which provides opportunity for both wider industry and food and drink producers to help rebuild on green credentials – according to Alistair Trail of SAC Consulting’s Food and Drink team.

“Given the sweeping change and extraordinary circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic, it would be easy for consumers to cast aside concerns for the environment and sustainability, but the pandemic has in fact highlighted the value of sustainable food systems, our natural economy and of green technologies,” said Mr Trail.

"We are seeing rising consumer interest in buying healthy, nutritious food produced with minimal impact on the environment. There is an opportunity here to channel the significant resources needed to get the economy back on track in a way that is consistent with the transition to a more sustainable future.”

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In March, analysis and research company GlobalData reported that 45% of consumers actively buy products that are better for the environment.

Mr Trail continued: “These are longstanding trends that are now being accelerated by Covid-19. The implications for food producers and manufacturers are investing in clear labelling as well as reformulating with natural ingredients, locally sourced where possible, rather than using artificial ingredients and chemicals – which could and should in turn support Scotland’s rural economy.”

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A new trend established since the Covid-19 outbreak is the rise of the ‘immunity consumer’ who is looking for food that offers benefits to their immune system. Previously consumers may have looked at vitamin tablets, pills, nutritional bars or health shots but now it is incorporated in food products that are far more mainstream.

“One-third of UK consumers are proactively looking for ingredients that can help their immunity including traditional unfashionable ingredients eaten a modern way,” added Mr Trail. “We have worked with companies creating drinks from the very nutritious coastal plant, sea buckthorn, or introducing vitamin-packed seaweed into savoury biscuits.”

He admitted that the key challenge will be balancing this rising consumer interest with affordability and cost.

“The Covid-19 emergency is causing an economic crisis, so it is important that these products are no longer niche and are affordable to the general population. Manufacturers can make great-tasting healthy food economical by taking a different distribution model than the one traditionally used by the health food market,” said Mr Trail, adding that the government must ensure support to disadvantaged individuals to access nutritious, sustainably produced food.

With future trade deals looming and concerns that public sector procurement could opt for cheaper food contracts with countries with proven poorer production standards, Mr Trail urged for schools, hospitals and public buildings to serve nutritious meals based on local, seasonal and sustainable raw ingredients.

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