In 2021, this proportion was 19%. The two main reasons for this decline are: the post-COVID-19 shift in consumer demand from retail back to food service and rapidly rising food prices.
In 2022, consumer spending on sustainable food increased by 13% to €10.8 billion. Total spending on food rose by 15% to €58.5 billion. Inflation and a post-COVID-19 shift in consumer demand from retail to food service played important roles in these developments. The increase in total food sales is relatively large, especially in the food service sector, but the proportion of sustainable food in that sector is much lower than in retail.
These facts are presented in the Sustainable Food Monitor 2022 compiled by Wageningen Economic Research on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. Sales in three channels were reported: supermarkets, the food service sector (hospitality, catering, care facilities, and recreation) and shops specialising in sustainable food, such as natural food shops.
Although total spending on sustainable food increased in all product groups, the proportion of spending on sustainable food fell slightly or remained the same. The share of products with sustainability labels fell the most for Eggs (from 66% to 60%) and Fish (57% to 53%), while the largest increase in total spending was seen in Beverages (27%).
In 2022, the food service sector showed continued recovery in sales of both sustainable and other food. After the COVID-19-related restrictions in 2020 and 2021, food spending in this sector has returned to pre-pandemic levels. Compared to 2021, spending on sustainable food increased by 52% and total spending by 43%.
Supermarkets and speciality shops
After the pandemic ended in 2022, sales in supermarkets and in shops specialising in sustainable food (especially sales of organic and biodynamic foods) have been affected by the shift in demand from retail back to food service. At the same time, the increased spending in these channels has not kept pace with food price inflation of 10% to 11%, while at shops specialising in sustainable food, such as natural food shops, spending has even declined.
Spending on sustainable food in supermarkets in 2022 was 10% higher than in 2021, while total food spending rose by 6%. Shops specialising in sustainable food reported a decline in sales of 4%. This indicates that spending on sustainable food in supermarkets remained the same – relative to inflation – as in 2021, and that the total volumes of products sold in both retail channels actually declined.
Consumers spent most on products with the Beter Leven, Rainforest Alliance and Biologisch sustainability labels
In 2022, consumers spent around €3.8 billion on Beter Leven (better animal welfare) products, €2.6 billion on Rainforest Alliance products and €1.8 billion on Biologisch (organic) products. The biggest percentage increase in spending was seen in Rainforest Alliance products (+16%). In early 2018, Rainforest Alliance merged with UTZ Certified. As a result, the Rainforest Alliance label is found on more and more products that previously carried the UTZ Certified label. UTZ Certified is being phased out over time. Spending on the remaining UTZ Certified products is therefore included in the spending on Rainforest Alliance products.
The biggest quality label in the measured retail sales channels in 2022 was Beter Leven (€3.8 billion in consumer spending), followed by Rainforest Alliance (€2.6 billion) and Biologisch (€1.8 billion). According to estimates, Dutch consumers also spent several million euros on sustainable food with the Biologisch label in retail channels that were not included in the Monitor 2022, such as ethnic food shops, market stalls, online-only shops and speciality shops (e.g. bakeries, butchers and delicatessens).
Meat and meat products was the product group with the largest increase in the percentage of food with a quality label – from 43% in 2021 to 47% in 2022. This was due to strong growth in the supply of poultry meat and poultry meat products with the Beter Leven quality label.
About the Sustainable Food Monitor 2022
The Sustainable Food Monitor 2022 was commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) with the aim of gaining insight into the sustainability of food chains in the Netherlands. To achieve this aim, the Monitor provides comprehensive information on the status of and developments in sustainable food consumption in the Netherlands. In the letter to the Dutch House of Representatives, 'Perspectives for agricultural entrepreneurs', the Minister of Argiculture, Nature and Food Quality indicated that chain parties and consumers both have a role to play in sustainability.
In the Sustainable Food Monitor 2022, sustainable food is defined as food for which environmental, animal welfare and/or social aspects have been taken into account during its production and processing to a greater extent than required by law. The starting point was retail spending in 2022 on foods that consumers can recognise as sustainable regarding one or more aspects. This recognisability was based on quality labels with independent verification. This approach was chosen partly for the sake of measurability. Food Service products are often de-packaged, processed or made from different ingredients on site just before they are sold to consumers. Therefore, specifically for the food service sector, recognisability for suppliers and buyers was chosen as a starting point.
The research involved only products that are sold to consumers (and not, for example, products on the commodities market). Some consumer products that are made from certified raw materials may also carry a quality label, provided the rules corresponding with the label are met. However, these products are sometimes sold (during one of the periods) without a visible quality label. Due to the absence of a quality label, consumers are unlikely to recognise them as sustainable, so these products were excluded from the spending on sustainable food.