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Consumers value socially conscious brands even during high inflation

EFI logo with Responsibly grown farmworker assured slogan and website URL.

The last few years of uncertainty have shifted consumer purchase decisions and the reasons behind them.

We watched the many changes of consumer food habits during the pandemic and then, as COVID waned, inflation began. It remains to be seen how this inflation surge will continue to shape food habits, but the depth of social consciousness around food choices seems to be holding beyond the pandemic.

LeAnne Ruzzamenti

Closed restaurants and empty shelves drove new awareness of supply chains, workers along those supply chains and labor shortages.

The inflation surge of 2021 became apparent across all categories of goods and services just as the Equitable Food Initiative BB #:385632 marketing team had planned to conduct a consumer survey in late summer.

The goal of the study was to go beyond sales data and demographics and explore attitudes and actions of the socially conscious consumer.

We developed and conducted the “Consumer Attitudes Toward Fresh Produce and Socially Responsible Purchasing” study in the second half of 2021, speaking to consumers across the country regarding their purchasing habits.

The study confirmed many trends and provided new insights about the level of consumer awareness around social issues and their purchasing behavior specific to fresh produce.

Nearly three quarters of respondents said they consider how a brand does or does not support social or environmental issues when making purchase decisions. These socially conscious respondents mirrored demographics from previous studies, finding them to be between 35-44 years old, highly educated and living in urban settings.

There were notable takeaways relating to both the socially conscious shopper and general consumers. It was surprising to learn that socially conscious consumers consider social responsibility to be as important as the price/value of their fresh produce.

I think that most of us working in the food and ag industries would have assumed that quality and value would never be displaced as the top two factors when purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. But the respondents clearly value transparency and social action equally as much as getting a good price.

While it was not surprising that 80% of socially conscious respondents placed importance on buying from socially responsible brands, the fact that 67% of all respondents felt that way shows the blurring the line between socially conscious and the general population.

Not only do consumers prefer socially conscious brands, but nearly 80% of respondents want to see those values communicated on packaging, and 73% said it is important to showcase third-party certifications on package. Respondents said they wish to see packaging that includes information about fair working conditions, safe use of pesticides, and transparency from the farming operation, in that order.

With numbers nearing 70% of consumers putting social values over price, growers, shippers and retailers can’t ignore socially conscious concerns. We are no longer dealing with a small niche of highly driven consumers looking for socially active brands.

Being socially conscious isn’t a radical idea that only a few consumers want. It is easily becoming the norm, and consumers are actively looking for brands that provide transparency and authentic connections to the food they buy and consume.

The most important takeaway is that the socially conscious and general consumer are more alike than they are different. And I would argue that the socially conscious shopper is providing us with strong indicators on the direction we need to take our businesses, branding and outreach, because they are setting the trends that most of the population will follow.

As I’ve said long before the pandemic, making human connection through packaging, social media and digital channels remains crucial.

Elevating everyone in the agriculture supply chain and telling the stories that bring them to the forefront is not just part of my job at EFI but is deeply rooted in my own values. I’m so glad the research we undertook confirmed the need to continue to create an equitable food system and broadly share those values with consumers.

You can find some suggested action steps to stay ahead of the trends affirmed in our research in our report, Five Tips for Building Brand Transparency to Attract Socially Conscious Consumers.


LeAnne R. Ruzzamenti is marketing communications director for Equitable Food Initiative. Connect with her on LinkedIn.