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6 Key Insights to Understand the Sustainability Opportunity 

Danny Bowles, International Insights & Planning Specialist

Insights to the sustainability opportunity img1.PNG

Photo by Tyler Casey on Unsplash 

Recently, Bord Bia published the results of our Global Sustainability Outlook study. It is one of the largest and most ambitious pieces of research which Bord Bia and Origin Green has ever commissioned. We interviewed: 

  • 14 thought leaders in NGO’s and Policy Groups, 
  • 25 sustainability leads 
  • 175 trade buyers 
  • Over 11,000 consumers across 13 markets, chosen as priority markets for Irish food and drink. 

Based on the findings we have set up a Global Sustainability Insights portal analyse the headline findings of the research overall, in each of the 13 markets, and for the core sustainability topics. Want to know more about how the trade think about biodiversity, or in which market sustainable packaging is most important? Then delve into the portal.  

This research makes the clear case for businesses to engage in measurable action across a range of sustainability issues. From an environmental point of view, there is a need for us all to act. The status quo is no longer an option. But the commercial imperative and opportunity is there too, consumers and trade customers are calling on producers and suppliers to act, and those that do, and communicate it well, can win share. Below are 6 key insights to understand that sustainability opportunity. 


The sustainability agenda is accelerating 

There is strong, consistent evidence that the agenda around sustainability has accelerated over the last 5 years, and will continue to do so. Currently, 3 in 4 trade interviewees say that sustainability is important to their business (Bord Bia, 2021)1. The same proportion of consumers say they have made an effort to buy more sustainably-produced food and drink in the last 12 months. But another “tipping point” is coming, which means more heightened demands. Will it be driven by COP26 in November? A post-Covid bounce for environmental issues? More extreme weather events?... 

It is positive that, according to the Readiness Radar, the sector is unanimously aware of the importance, and growing importance of sustainability, and 30% see themselves as sustainability “leaders” (Bord Bia,2021)2. But what a sustainability leader is will consistently change. We can’t afford to ignore it or think that what we are doing today will suffice tomorrow. The challenge is getting ahead of the acceleration. Don’t get caught out by the increasing demands. This means embracing sustainability in strategy and keeping up with relevant consumer trends. 


Communicating sustainability is complex and has to be targeted correctly 

There is a tendency to discuss the concept of sustainability as being a monolithic topic. But how sustainability is understood, and its most important attributes, differ depending on who you are talking to. Each stakeholder, each market has their own expectations when it comes to sustainability and influence. Talking to consumers is all about what is tangible and accessible, e.g. waste. But talking to sustainability leads or operations managers with a key customer requires a more holistic and long-term view of your sustainability action.  

Our insights portal will explain how each of the different stakeholders understand the core sustainability topics, helping you discern which messages to use for certain audiences. 


Sustainability is becoming a core purchasing criteria for trade 

Environmentally-friendly production of food and drink is now up there with consistency of supply as a core purchasing criteria for trade. 51% of interviewees say sustainability is “integral” to their business (Bord Bia,2021)1. This is especially the case for dairy and meat buyers. Sustainability is central to the strategy of a large amount of your buyers’, so make sure you’re acting on it, and shouting about that action. All Origin Green members have sustainability benefits to shout about and 47% of European buyers interviewed said Origin Green would encourage them to do business with Irish suppliers (Bord Bia, 2021)1.  



Opportunity for long-term customer partnerships through sustainability 

During the interviews we repeatedly heard customers speak to a growing sense that partnerships, driven by sustainability data and transparency, would come more to the fore. As big retailers set emissions targets, with their full supply chain in scope, they are looking for suppliers which share their sustainability mindset, and share their data. We could soon be in a scenario where suppliers that aren't sharing strong sustainability proof points could miss out on the opportunity for deep integration into their key customers’ supply chains. 

 Consumers fully expect food producers to step up

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Photo by Viki Mohamad on Unsplash 

61% of consumers say it will become more important to them to buy more sustainably-produced food and drink in the next 3 years. An even higher proportion say reduced packaging and food waste will become more important. As they look for more sustainably-produced food and drink, they are demanding that the food producers do more. 63% say food producers are responsible for improving sustainability in food and drink, ahead of government/policymakers, farmers, shoppers themselves and retailers (Bord Bia, 2021)1.  

The expectation from consumers is for sustainable production to be more mainstream on their supermarket shelves. The implication is that brands that help consumers be more sustainable, and can communicate the value of their sustainability action, can win share.  


Packaging, waste and welfare are the key consumer topics to shout about 

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hoto by Brett Zeck on Unsplash 

Sustainable packaging and reducing food waste are the sustainability attributes that consumers find most influential and associate with sustainability. Packaging is a key proxy for consumers to understand the sustainability credentials of a brand as it is tangible, as opposed to emissions in the supply chain. But carbon numbers will bring a product’s carbon footprint more front of mind in the coming years. For the moment however, packaging and reducing food waste are key. Consider what materials could be used to keep your product hygienic, but that can be easily recycled or broken down. Bear in mind that best practice around recycling can be confusing, so help your consumers; communicate clearly how the packaging is more sustainable and how it should be disposed of. And to tackle food waste, which is especially important in Ireland, think about reducing the size of your products for smaller households.  

When it comes to meat and dairy, animal welfare, and grass-fed, stands out. In Europe, grass-fed taps into the desire for high welfare meat, whereas in Asian markets, where animal health is less significant, it taps into their desire for more natural meat. Almost 1 in 4 beef consumers globally say it’s appealing and it’s worth paying a premium for and just under 1 in 5 dairy consumers saying the same (Bord Bia, 2021)1.  

But of course there are differences between markets on the most important sustainability attributes. With plenty more insights to uncover, including market-specifics, please visit Bord Bia’s Global Sustainability Insights portal  to dig deeper.  



  1. Bord Bia. (2021). Global Sustainability Insights. - https://www.bordbia.ie/industry/insights/global-sustainability-insights/


  1. Bord Bia. (2021). Readiness Radar - https://www.bordbia.ie/industry/readiness-radar/