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Health surpasses environment among sustainably-minded consumers: report

Health eclipses environmental concerns among sustainability-conscious consumers, according to a report released by Tastewise, a food intelligence start-up powered by artificial intelligence.

Tastewise works by analysing more than two billion interactions across social media platforms along with more than three million online recipes and a menu database of 274,000 restaurants. It uses this information to unearth emerging consumers trends. A lot of the data is from the US exclusively but is still used by Tastewise to form opinions of global trends.

Its latest report discovered that compared to a year ago, 23% more consumers in the US are prioritising vegan and sustainable diets, with ‘meatless conversations on the rise’.

But health, not environment or animal welfare, is the biggest driver. While 39% of consumers’ sustainable conversations focus on health benefits, only 1% discuss animal rights. Meanwhile, consumers were mostly ‘apathetic’ with regard to environmental waste in the animal agriculture industry.

This trend is also evident among vegans, who also cite health as the biggest factor contributing to a diet change. According to Tastewise, 31% of conversations about veganism relate to health while 17% of conversations focus on sustainability.

Food industry faces backlash if health and sustainability credentials are compromised

Tastewise CEO Alon Chen, a former Google executive, told FoodNavigator that the “extremely strong correlation with health preferences” ​identified in the report meant the food industry risks facing a consumer backlash if it doesn’t make products that tick both boxes of sustainability and health.

Meanwhile, the report added that because the main driver behind sustainable choices was health, it “may indicate an industry opportunity for both more sustainable meat options, and protein-rich, low-carb, plant-based products suitable for keto diets​”.

“Healthy people really care about sustainability and vice versa​,” he said. “The conclusion is that we, the food industry, really need to understand that we need to find sustainable solutions, but also make sure they are addressing the health preferences of people. 

“If we want the industry to move forward both healthily and sustainably, we need to look at both these dimensions. With meatless conversations on the rise, new product innovation must bear that in mind. The consumers demand transparency but even if you’re not transparent they’ll go and do the research.”

This extends to the cell-based and cultured meat industry, he added, which can also expect scrutiny into its sustainable and health credentials. Energy is a small (6.5%) but growing (up 40% year-on-year) consideration in sustainability-related discussions, according to the report. “These companies have huge bioreactors and they will have to make sure they are using renewable energy as well as making sure that all the residuals from the production line are being handled properly to make sure that it’s also sustainable. It’s also yet to prove that what they’re making is healthy – and this is the first consideration for consumers.”

Seafood is taking over sustainable recipes

The report also highlighted that seafood is taking over sustainable recipes, with pollock dominating sustainable seafood menus. Oysters, meanwhile, were rising the fastest in social discussions.

“If a menu or a product doesn’t offer sustainable seafood, it’s time to catch up to consumers’ heightened culinary consciousness,”​ observed Chen.