Consumer Interaction with Sustainability Labelling on Food Products: A Narrative Literature Review
Cook B., Costa Leite J., Rayner M., Stoffel S., van Rijn E., Wollgast J.
Sustainability labelling on food products can help consumers make informed purchasing decisions and support the urgent transition to sustainable food systems. While there is a relatively robust body of evidence on health and nutrition labelling, less is known about the effectiveness of sustainability labelling in facilitating sustainable food choices. This paper investigates the impact of sustainability labelling on consumer understanding, attitudes, and behaviour to support a more nuanced, detailed, and holistic understanding of the evidence. Using a narrative literature review methodology, the paper assesses studies covering environmental, social, and/or animal welfare aspects of sustainability labelling on food products. We found that consumer understanding of sustainability information is often limited, which could hinder behaviour change. While sustainability labelling can influence consumer attitudes and purchasing behaviours, evidence from real consumer settings tends to show small effect sizes. Consumers are generally willing to pay more for sustainability-labelled products, and organic labelling often leads to the highest reported willingness to pay. The review emphasises the importance of trust, suggesting a preference for labelling backed by governments or public authorities. Sustainability labelling that uses intuitively understandable cues has an increased impact, with visual aids such as traffic light colours showing promise. We conclude that further research is needed in real-world settings, using representative populations and exploring the influence of demographic factors, values, and attitudes.