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Sustainability takes an increasing importance in chocolate purchase decisions

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AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands – When it comes to cocoa and chocolate, sustainability is taking on increased importance, influencing consumers’ purchase decisions and their perceptions of the brands they buy. New research from Cargill finds consumers look for products with sustainability credentials and are willing to pay more for brands that invest in environmental or social initiatives that align with their beliefs.

The research, which surveyed more than 7,000 consumers across 10 European countries, was designed to gain a deeper understanding of consumers’ sustainability perceptions, intentions and declared behaviors, providing a guidepost for brands as they plot their sustainability journey.

In the survey, Cargill found 70% of consumers factor sustainability into their food and beverage purchase decisions, with an even higher percentage of frequent chocolate purchasers, nearly three-quarters, reporting they prefer to buy sustainable products.

“Consumer expectations are higher now than ever before,” said Niels Boetje, managing director Cocoa at Cargill. “Our research suggests that increasingly, consumers look for responsibly sourced brands, backed by concrete claims and compelling stories that connect the products they purchase with tangible progress on critical issues like child protection and deforestation elimination.”

Cargill found sustainability concerns influence purchase decisions across demographic groups, with younger consumers, age 18-34, most attuned to these issues. Among this cohort, 76% acknowledged sustainability has become more important to them in the past year when choosing chocolate products, with just over half of these Gen Z and millennial shoppers reporting a corresponding uptick in sustainable product purchases.

Within the chocolate space, consumers’ affinity for products perceived as sustainable was even more apparent. While flavor and price remain the top two considerations for these purchases, survey respondents ranked environmental and social sustainability on par with factors like nutritional value, brand name and previous product trial.

Given the breadth of issues encompassed by sustainability-linked initiatives, the research dug into consumers’ highest concerns related to chocolate products. Child labor topped the list, followed closely by farmer income and deforestation. It found that companies’ commitments in these areas had a positive impact on brand perceptions, with consumers viewing brands who would make these investments as more premium, trustworthy and of higher quality, among others.

Despite the importance of sustainability in product decisions, consumers cited limited product availability – along with challenges determining which products are sustainable – as key barriers to purchasing sustainably sourced products. Those concerns ranked above factors such as higher price and trust in sustainability claims. Further, the majority of consumers, 68%, said they would pay more for a chocolate product made with sustainable cocoa. Consumers also indicated they were more willing to pay a premium for chocolate products with sustainability claims as compared to those made with less sugar, single origin cocoa or even organic claims.

“Sustainability is rising in importance across a broad range of consumers, providing an opportunity for brands to elevate their existing commitments and invest in initiatives that truly resonate with their customers,” said Boetje. “At Cargill, we operate in the middle of the supply chain, creating a bridge between the cocoa-producing countries and our customers that produce consumer products. As a result, we are well positioned to support food and beverage manufacturers’ sustainability commitments and collaborate on initiatives that reflect their customers’ priorities. We can help reinforce their brand values and bring their sustainability goals to life with assets that communicate in an engaging way.”