Are Consumers Really Willing to Pay More?

With an increasing focus on nutrition and health by American consumers has come greater curiosity about where our food comes from and how it is produced. Echoed by concerns in the media, consumers have continued to search for more information about the food supply, request environmentally sustainable foods, and look for locally grown food products.  But how sustainable do most consumers believe food produced through conventional agricultural methods are, and how important is it for consumers to have food produced in a sustainable way?

To answer these questions and more, IFIC conducts its "Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology" Survey every other year, which explores U.S. adult consumers’ awareness, perceptions, and behaviors with respect to various aspects of plant and animal biotechnology, modern agriculture, and sustainability. Because the survey has been conducted since 1997, we really are able to look at the data and get an idea of how Americans’ knowledge and sentiments toward modern food production and sustainability have ebbed and flowed over the years.  

In 2014 the majority of consumers agree that modern agriculture (that is, conventional farming using today’s modern tools and equipment) can be sustainable (74 percent), produce high-quality foods (72 percent), and produce nutritious foods (71 percent). Sixty-eight percent also agree that modern agriculture produces safe foods, and surprisingly, only a little more than half believe that modern agriculture farms are still primarily family-run, which demonstrates an opportunity to highlight the fact that most of today’s small- and large-scale farms are still family-operated.

The 2014 survey found that awareness of sustainability in food production remains relatively high, with 57 percent who have heard or read something about sustainability in food production. Even more fascinating is that 61 percent of Millennials have an awareness of sustainability, higher than other age groups. However, only 26 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for foods that fit their perception of sustainability, down from 33 percent in 2012. But this number goes up again when looking at Millennials: 43 percent would be willing to pay more for sustainable foods and beverages. Sixty-six percent, though, say it is important that the foods they purchase or consume are produced in a sustainable way (with sustainability being defined as “meeting long-term food needs by producing more food affordably with the same or fewer resources, in a way that is better for the environment and keeps food accessible for consumers”).

And finally, the 2014 survey found that a majority of consumers believe there are many factors in which biotechnology can play a role: ensuring a sufficient food supply for a growing global population (72 percent), producing more food with less use of natural resources (70 percent), conserving the natural habitat (68 percent), and reducing carbon footprint (68 percent).

Additional insights from the “2014 Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology Survey” include:

Availability of foods produced with biotechnology in the grocery store

Trusted sources of information on plant/animal biotechnology and sustainability

Perceptions of animal biotechnology and consumer favorability toward genetically engineered meat, fish, and dairy products

Comparisons of moms and Millennials to the general population on awareness and perceptions of biotechnology and sustainability

Visit the Executive Summary for these insights and more at www.foodinsight.org.

Methodology

The 16th “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” survey was fielded by Market Strategies International of Livonia, Mich., between March 28 and April 7, 2014, and involved 1,000 U.S. adults polled using an online survey tool.  Results were weighted based on gender, age, race, education, region, income, and marital status to reflect the U.S. population. Results can be reported at a 95 percent confidence level.  Formerly the “IFIC Survey of Consumer Attitudinal Trends toward Food Biotechnology,” this survey is part of a series that has been conducted since 1997.