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© Jittrapon Kaicome for WWF Thailand

Survey and market research: Eco-awakening- gaps and opportunities for sustainable food products

Executive Summary

The purpose of Eco-awakening- gaps and opportunities for sustainable food products is to understand the Eco-awakening Intention vs. Action gap on both sides of the value chain – the demand side and supply side. This includes better understanding on consumers awareness levels, transformative behaviors, and the further development of a defined consumer education approach.

Additionally, the study aims to provide information that would help to address these gaps for consumers, companies, and influencing companies to adopt SCP practices.

To understand the gap that is present, mixed research methods were applied. Social listening and quantitative online self-completion surveys were used to gather data from consumers on the demand side. Qualitative in-depth interviews were used with food businesses on the supply side.

Key research findings.
Eco-awakening- gaps and opportunities for sustainable food products shows that sustainability topics have become major talking points on social media in Thailand. This was found though social listening analysis, which was used to scope and collect data from the main social media platforms, as well as relevant news and forum websites, in Thailand over a period of 12 months. The aim of the collection was to ascertain which topics related to sustainability and the agri-food chain are often discussed in the country. Compared to the most discussed topics on social media in Thailand, some sustainable topics, are discussed at similar amounts. For instance, ‘less meat consumption’ is the 5th most discussed topic on social media. Sustainability topics are not nice issues that the mainstream public are not concerned about. While they are not the most talked about topics, enough people are discussing them that detailed analysis can be drawn from the messages. The results of the study showed that Thailand the main topics consumers are discussing online related to sustainability in order of popularity were;
  1. Less meat consumption 110K, messages
  2. Organic food and farming, 93K messages
  3. Grow own food and urban farming 75K messages
  4. Food waste management, 70K messages
  5. Sustainable food packaging, 24K messages

For many of these topics, the messages found through social listening came from consumers directly and not from other sources like companies and corporates. This includes more than 80% of messages found under the topic of grow own food and urban farming coming from consumers. This key finding further reinforces how sustainability has become a major concern for consumers.

Not all the messages are positive however. Under analysis it was found that each of the topics also had opposition and challenges commenting on the trend in a negative manner. This includes issues related to costs and accessibility. Some consumers also had more personal challenges related to the sustainability trends having issues with taste and appearance of sustainable food options.

The research also analysed sustainability campaigns run on social media by major corporates, including Starbucks, OR, and Central Pattana. What was found was that consumers mainly had positive responses for these campaigns demonstrating there are opportunities for corporates to embrace sustainability today as consumers are aware and ready to support sustainability.

The findings from the social listening analysis were expanded upon through nation wide quantitative consumer surveys, which gathered insights from 500 respondents.
It was found that more than half of consumers, up to 65%, are concerned about sustainability. Moreover, more than half of the consumers surveyed are already performing at least one of the sustainable actions found in the social listening analysis. The most common of this was reduction of plastic bag, and using cloth bags as an alternative.

Deeper analysis found that for all the actions, apart from less meat consumption, the motivation for the consumers adopting the sustainable actions were environmental concerns and not due to personal or other external factors. This demonstrates how sustainability is becoming an important part of people lives. Sustainability has become ‘a must’, not only ‘should have’ for businesses.

The surveys also found that consumers have different level of awareness and sustainability practices depending on their demographic. The survey results placed consumers into three groups, which include
  • 35% Survivors – Low level of awareness. Survivors are comprised of Gen Y, Low to middle income, self employed individuals. They are concerned about survival factors rather than the world. Food waste management is only transformative action that can be found within this group
  • 42% Developers - Mid level of awareness.  Developers are metro urbanist who are usually office workers. They tend to have good knowledge on sustainability while transformative behaviors are limited due to life constraints.
  • 23% Passioners – High level of awareness. Mostly affluent gen X who have a strong passion to secure a world through sustainable practice. They are highly involved in sustainable action and have adopted many transformative behaviors.
From the results of the survey, business actions that could affect consumer purchase interests were found. This includes packaging that can be recycled, source of raw materials, human policies and production process, healthy food options, and seasonal and local food. The results of the survey indicates that many consumers, regardless of what group they belonged to, showed some preferences towards sustainable products. Therefore, it is time for businesses to see this opportunity that can help standout.
Qualitative in-depth interviews with relevant representatives from food businesses were used to gather data from the supply side of the value chain.  

It was found that larger businesses have higher consciousness and capacity for SCP practices compared to smaller entities. Large businesses were found to be early adopters of SCP while small businesses are following. While small businesses still have low awareness, they do believe that it is upcoming trend that they should adopt to earn branding and marketing value.

Although there are new businesses with high concern & consciousness on SCP, the scale of business has dramatic effect on capacity to adopt the practices. The qualitative interviews found barriers which prevent the food businesses from adopting sustainable principles in their business practices. Internal policy, variety of consumer preference, and low bargaining power are key barriers to apply SCP in business for chain restaurants, food retail businesses, and food delivery services respectively.

Each type of food business applies SCP through several relevant practices including:
  • Chain restaurants
    • Promote the origin of ingredients and more selective on vegetable for consumers
    • Deal with farmers & agriculturist directly
    • Sell short shelf-life product through applications at a lower price to reduce food waste
  • Food retail
    • Harnessing digital tools & innovations in store. Plus, using big data to forecast demands to match with supply
    • Support the local crops by selling it in the local branches
    • Reduce single-use packaging & recycle plastic.
    • Adopt and support renewable energy for carbon emission
  • Food delivery service
    • Promote the local stores or restaurant as seen as upcoming trend
    • Sell nearly-expired products in lower price (สินค้าป้ายเหลือง) to reduce food waste & carbon
    • Forecast demands from the restaurant to inform agriculturists in producing products to decrease food loss
Results from both the demand and supply side shows the growing popularity and importance of SCP practices.  Consumers are becoming concerned about sustainability both online and in real life. They are discussing related topics extensively on social media and more than half of the consumers surveyed have adopted suitability habits in everyday life. Sustainability affects consumers’ purchase decisions. While each type of business, large or small, have their own barriers that may be preventing SCP principles from being implemented, sustainability has become ‘a must’, not only ‘should have’. Businesses need to adopt SCP principles. It is still a white space that can help businesses stand out.