Consumers’ perceptions on food-related sustainability: A systematic review

L.M. van Bussel*, A. Kuijsten, M. Mars, P. van ‘t Veer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Consumers play a crucial role in reducing the burden on the environment through their food choices. Currently, food choices are mainly determined by price, convenience, taste and health. To change eating patterns to more sustainable eating patterns, it is essential to understand how consumers interpret “sustainability” in relation to the food supply chain. The aim of this systematic review is to categorize and to describe consumer perceptions of food-related environmental sustainability in general. We conducted a systematic literature review of quantitative and qualitative studies published between January 2010 and June 2020. This resulted in 76 articles; 49 quantitative, 21 qualitative and 6 mixed-method studies. Open coding (grounded theory) was used, and codes were subsequently categorized into subcategories, categories and domains (domain analysis). In total, 834 codes were categorized into 118 subcategories. These subcategories were clustered into 30 categories describing seven different overarching domains: 1) production, 2) transportation, 3) product, 4) product group, 5) consumer, 6) waste and 7) contextual factors. The domains production (31%), transportation (19%) and product (14%) were the largest domains identified in quantitative studies, and in qualitative studies these were production (25%), consumer (20%) and product (20%). Environmental impact, (locally and organic) food choices and ethical production are the most frequent categories mentioned by consumers. However, this literature review also showed that consumers still lack key knowledge on some other specific food-related sustainability topics. In particular, consumers have difficulty defining the concept “sustainability” and to estimate the environmental impact of their food choices. Consumers believe that sustainability does not (yet) influence their food choices. Currently, consumers consider price, taste and individual health more influential than sustainability. It would be useful for policymakers to communicate sustainability knowledge in a transparent, evidence-based and controlled way and to guide consumers by designing a highly regulated and controlled sustainability label.

Original languageEnglish
Article number130904
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2022


  • Consumer perceptions
  • Food chain
  • Qualitative research
  • Quantitative research
  • Sustainability
  • Systematic review


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