Sustainable and fair trade certified indian tea picker at work

Unabated sustainability boom in the USA and Europe

The times when sustainability was an issue that was only relevant for some niche markets are long gone. In the past years, sustainability standards have successfully conquered the mainstream market with significant growth rates. Surveys have revealed that, especially in Northern America and Europe, there is no end in sight for this trend. We have gathered the most relevant data for you.


Global developments and trends

Consumer awareness is rising

A study by Nielsen (2015) has revealed that the sustainability of products is becoming increasingly important to consumers. More and more people are aware of their responsibility towards the environment and consciously choose sustainable products, accepting higher prices. The data relating to that phenomenon are quite remarkable. While in 2013, only half of the respondents of the survey were willing to pay more for sustainable goods, this number had risen to 66% in 2015.

This means that standards and quality labels are also gaining in importance and their credibility and transparency play a key role in this context. Many consumers inform themselves well before purchasing a product and more frequently decide in favor of a brand that can verify its sustainability claims. Thus, quality labels do not only provide orientation; they can be influential purchase decision drivers.

Chart: Consumers pay more for sustainability

The market for sustainable products is growing

One result of this shift in awareness is that in the past years dealing with verified sustainable products has constantly resulted in higher growth rates than trading with conventionally produced goods. This has been proven by both Nielsen (2015) and Lernoud et al. (2016). They further agree that this growth will continue over the next years.

Chart: Global market for organic food and drinks 2002-2012

In this connection, the market for organic food products deserves particular attention. When it comes to food, the aspect of food safety adds to the general demand for sustainability, as a survey by FiBL & IFOAM (2014) highlights. Especially in the US, where there is no mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods, organic and non-GMO labels are the only way for consumers to be sure a product is GMO-free. With a value of approx. 32 billion US-dollars in 2012 and annual growth rates of over 10%, the USA constitutes the world’s largest market for organic foods. According to more recent data from an organic industry survey by Organic Trade Association (2016), in 2105 already approx. 5% of all food sold in the USA was organic which adds up to 39.7 billion US-dollars.


Chart: USA retail sales growth 2002-2012

Chart: Total U.S. Organic sales and growth according to OTA

With 20 billion US-dollars in 2012, Europe is the second largest market for organic food products, even if growth rates can vary considerably depending on the country in question. Whereas countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands achieve high growth rates, they remain traditionally weak in southern European countries.

Chart showing the Global market - retail sales by country 2012

Chart: Global market retail sales market 2012

Northern America and Europe are driving forces

Available data show clearly that Northern America and Europe currently are the driving forces in the sustainability market, especially when it comes to organic food. However, the USA heavily relies on imports to cover the high demand for organic food products. Regions like Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, etc.) or South America can step in here because they have rather limited organic markets but large organic farms.

Organic agricultural land 2012

Challenges and possible solutions

The increasing complexity of the global sustainability market and consumers’ enhanced awareness confront the certification industry with ever new and greater challenges. It is therefore crucial to keep the promises made by the individual certifications and guarantee the transparency and integrity of quality labels throughout the entire value chain. To achieve this, Intact Systems offers the perfect software solution. It enables standard setters and scheme owners as well as inspection and certification bodies to work in an efficient and transparent manner and even supports the linking of existing certification data with different traceability systems.

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