How consumers are rethinking their Independence Day BBQs

A look at the role of climate change in Americans’ eating habits

With the Fourth of July just around the corner, Americans are getting ready to hang up flags, watch some fireworks and, of course, get together with family and friends for a cookout or picnic. The traditional burgers and brats remain popular barbeque fare, but some consumers will opt for more chicken, pork or plant-based options when planning their July Fourth menus.

According to NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics’ annual Independence Day survey, 53 percent of those planning a Fourth of July gathering say they are likely to purchase chicken, fish or a plant-based meat alternative for their holiday gatherings. And while health concerns and rising prices on items like meat are the top reasons consumers are considering these options, over one in five (22%) are doing so specifically because of climate concerns.

It’s not an isolated trend. In fact, a recent report by NRF industry partner member Kearney estimates that by 2030 many routine food choices will be influenced by climate-related issues.

According to the report, “Dawn of the Climavores,” 80 percent of consumers are at least somewhat aware of the relationship between their food choices and the environment. And searches on key issues like greenhouse gas emissions for specific food categories are on the rise.

But instead of adopting a fully vegetarian or vegan diet — which can be intimidating for many consumers — shoppers are increasingly attracted to what Kearney characterizes as the “Climavore lifestyle.”

“Climavores actively make food choices based on climate impacts,” says Corey Chafin, associate partner in Kearney’s consumer practice. “They believe switching up their protein sources — for example, purchasing more chicken than beef or incorporating more soy products than pork — goes a long way toward amplifying their personal environmental impact while still allowing them to indulge in their favorite foods on occasion.”

 

As the study notes, these incremental choices can have a significant impact. For instance, substituting a different protein for beef just once a week for a year is the equivalent of driving up to 800 fewer miles.

How are consumers implementing a Climavore approach to eating? While there are certainly more plant or vegetarian options on restaurant menus than there were a decade ago, the Kearney study found that consumers were nearly twice as likely to consider the environmental impact of their food while shopping in the grocery store than when they were dining out.

 

Climavores are looking for choices that allow them to decrease their own personal impact on the environment but also fit within their everyday lifestyles and budgets. For example, they might be interested in splurging on the occasional burger or steak when dining out, but they want to offset that with other choices for eating or entertaining at home. Whether it’s shopping for an easy weekday dinner, meal-prepping for the week or buying for a big holiday cookout, Climavores — like all shoppers — are balancing a variety of considerations and priorities.

Even with the growing interest in climate-friendly food options, as the Kearney study notes, other factors like cost, taste and nutrition are still the primary drivers in deciding what consumers eat both inside and outside the home.

 

In today’s inflationary environment with prices rising on many core proteins, shoppers might be even more motivated to look for cheaper substitutes for traditional menu items. NRF found that among those choosing to purchase chicken, fish or a plant-based protein for their July Fourth celebrations, half (51%) were doing so because of higher prices and a similar number (50%) were doing so because of health considerations. Regardless of why they are switching up their eating habits, consumers might end up keeping some of these climate-friendly choices even after the pinch of inflation eases.

“As we’ve seen repeatedly over the last couple of years, events like the COVID-19 pandemic or inflation can get consumers to try new things,” says Katie Thomas, Kearney’s consumer institute lead. “Many of these new behaviors — whether it’s curbside pickup, contactless payments or trying a veggie kabob or salmon burger — can become habits if shoppers discover enjoyment from these new products or services. The key for retailers looking to encourage long-term climate-friendly behaviors is to make sure they are ready with a variety of products and price points that easily translate into their everyday lives.”

Understanding how consumer perceptions and attitudes toward what they eat is changing is critical for food brands and retailers as they think about their own initiatives around sustainable sourcing or setting emission reduction goals. Companies like Whole Foods are already taking this into consideration by offering shoppers grilling ideas for everything from turkey burgers and salmon to veggie kabobs and peaches. Others like Kraft are taking a different approach by rethinking the packaging on traditional summer condiments; Seemore Meats and Veggies launched with the idea of reducing the amount of meat in a traditional sausage by packing it with veggies.

To learn more about retailers’ sustainability initiatives, visit NRF’s sustainability headquarters.

 

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