Consumers might seek more climate-friendly foods at grocery stores but are unlikely to change their restaurant behaviors.
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Consumers might seek more climate-friendly foods at grocery stores, but are unlikely to change their restaurant behaviors.

How Much Are Restaurant Guests Considering Climate Change?

‘Climavorism’ may be on the rise, but its restaurant impact is moderate at best.

The growing urgency around climate change is a hot topic in nearly every sector, and food is no exception. Per the U.N.’s Food & Agriculture Organization, 31 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to food and agriculture systems. In light of the potentially cataclysmic effects of climate change, the industry has a strong incentive to reduce its carbon footprint. But what about individuals? Will consumers adjust their purchasing habits, and more specifically, will they do so at restaurants?

A new report from global consulting firm Kearney sheds light on the matter by exploring the habits of "climavores," who prioritize eco-friendly eating.

“Daily food choice is a call to action for consumers keen to make a positive impact on climate outcomes, with nearly one-third of consumers in our survey considering environmental impact at the grocery store,” says Corey Chafin, associate partner of Kearney’s consumer practice division and the study’s principal author.

But therein lies a crucial distinction. While 27 percent of consumers will think of a food’s environmental impact when shopping at grocery stores, only 15 percent will do so at restaurants. In some ways, the disparity echoes data from a much older report. In 2013, The NPD Group found that only about a quarter of consumers reported eating healthy while dining out; in stark contrast, more than half the respondents said they ate healthy at home.

According to Kearney, most restaurant guests consider taste (77 percent) and cost (67 percent) significant factors in picking an order. Although nutrition is important to far fewer consumers when dining out (only 38 percent), it is still more than double the portion of guests prioritizing environmental impact. By comparison, cost slightly edges out taste (at 73 and 72 percent, respectively) at grocery stores.

That’s not to say restaurants should ignore climate impact when building their menus. Touting eco-friendly ingredients could differentiate brands. And unlike rigid diets, climavorism gives restaurants and food retailers a bit more leeway, per Kearney. By digging deeper into the carbon footprints behind various SKUs, operators might uncover climate-friendly ingredients already on their menus.

“Consumers have become alienated by the binary omnivore/vegetarian thinking,” Chafin says. “Instead, we should focus on climate-conscious food choices of any type. For example, trading chicken for beef on a per-pound basis reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent.”