Wageningen University: Demand for sustainable products rising; supply increasing too

Despite the corona crisis, the demand for and supply of sustainable food products increased in 2020. Spending on sustainable food increased by 7% in just one year, while total spending on food in the Netherlands fell by 9%, caused by the partial closure of restaurants and other catering services. Spending on sustainable food in the catering industry fell sharply by 46%, but the supermarkets were able to compensate for this decline: spending on sustainable food rose by 21% in this sector. Specialty shops for sustainable food showed an increase in turnover of 9%.

Sustainable food is defined in the Monitor as food with a lower impact on the environment, animal welfare and/or social aspects during production and processing than legally required.

Quality labels
Consumers can recognise sustainable products by a quality label. The ‘Beter Leven’ (Better Life) quality label is the most widely sold, with a turnover of approximately €3.0 billion. This is followed by quality labels ‘Biologisch’ (Organic – €1.6 billion) and ‘UTZ Certified’ (approximately €1.4 billion).

The largest percentage increase was seen in products with the ‘On the Way to PlanetProof’ and ‘Rainforest Alliance’ labels (plus 41%). This is related to the introduction of more of these labels in the product range. ASC, the label for responsible fish farming, increased by 22% compared to 2019.

Product groups
In 2020, almost all product groups with a sustainability label showed a net growth. Meat and meat products (€2,141 million, 3% growth compared to 2019), Long-life products, ready meals and other (€1,222 million, 17% growth) and Dairy (€1,095 million, plus 11%) were the product groups with the largest share of consumer spending on sustainable food in 2020.

Total expenditure on sustainable coffee and tea decreased by 19%. This decrease was caused by the restrictions in the catering industry due to COVID-19. The growth of the Coffee and tea product group in the other channels surveyed was not able to compensate for the loss in catering sales, although the product group still had the highest growth in supermarket sales: plus 34%.

In the period 2019-2020, the product groups Long-life products, Ready meals and other (€234 million) and Dairy (€218 million) showed the largest absolute increase. In the supermarkets, sustainable Potatoes, fruit and vegetables, Bread, cereals, cakes and pastries, Eggs and Dairy together showed a growth of around 30%. For the Eggs group this had to do with the further expansion of the range of 1-star ‘Beter Leven’ label free-range eggs.

With a 1% decrease, spending on organic food (with the ‘Biologisch’ label) remained more or less unchanged. Organic fish in particular sold less, with a drop of 34%. Supermarkets and specialist sustainable food shops both sold 9% more organic food, but there was a 48% drop in the catering sector.

Monitor online
The Sustainable Food Monitor is published annually by Wageningen University & Research and commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. The monitor provides insight into Dutch consumer spending on more sustainably produced food in supermarkets, catering industry and specialist shops for sustainable food.