How Different Generations View and Act on Food Sustainability

November 8, 2022
Woman shopping at grocery store

Millennials and Gen Zers share many common perspectives about food sustainability and purchasing behaviors, according to the International Food Information Council’s “2022 Food and Health Survey.” While these generations oftentimes agree, their views are typically at odds with other demographic groups.

For example, Gen Zers are more likely than Baby Boomers to purchase products labeled “small carbon footprint/carbon neutral” and “plant-based.” But how does sustainability influence peoples’ overall buying decisions? 

The survey reveals that four in 10 Americans say environmental sustainability impacts their decision to buy certain foods and beverages, although it still ranks below taste and price for influencing factors. However, the importance of sustainability has seen a big jump since 2019 when it was 27%.

More than half of Americans, 52%, believe their food and beverage purchases impact the environment. This represents a 10% increase from the previous year.
So, how are people trying to improve food sustainability? Many strive to reduce food waste. The survey notes that 44% are eating leftovers and 42% plan meals before they go shopping.


The food products people buy, eat and waste can affect the environment. But how concerned are various demographic groups? The survey notes that 73% of Gen Zers believe their generation, when compared to others, is more concerned about the environmental impact of food choices. Meanwhile, 71% of millennials believe this about their own generation.

While millennials and Gen Zers often hold similar views, they do have some distinct differences. For instance, compared to millennials, Gen Zers are less likely to believe their personal food choices have at least a moderate impact on the environment by a margin of 50% to 67%.

Similarly, Gen Z is less likely to worry about food waste than millennials, although the gap is narrower. According to the survey, 61% of Gen Zers are concerned about food waste, compared with 69% of millennials. 


Many factors impact peoples’ food buying decisions. The survey states that  45% of Americans say it’s important to know that the workers who produce, distribute or serve food are treated in a fair and equitable way.
Where are people getting their information about how workers are treated? One in five of those who consider the treatment of workers important use news and social media to become informed on the topic. Third-party organizations and government agencies rank toward the bottom for fact-gathering sources.

Meanwhile, food labels and food manufacturers’ websites are the top places Americans turn to for information on the social sustainability of foods and beverages, at 37% and 35% respectively, the survey said. Young people are the most likely to get information on social sustainability from a variety of sources, including food labels. Men also tend to look to doctors and news stories more than women do.

“Certain age groups view food sustainability differently, and most people are not willing to pay even a couple bucks more for an eco-friendly product. ”


Not surprisingly, cost influences buying decisions, even for people who view social sustainability and the treatment of workers as important. The survey reports that 61% of Americans are more likely to buy a product costing $2 less than a similar product that’s made in ways committed to the fair and equitable treatment of workers.
Cost also influences the likelihood that a consumer will buy an eco-friendly product:

  • 15% would most likely select the most expensive item, priced at $7, and the most eco-friendly option.
  • 46% would select the mid-priced option, costing $5, that’s somewhat eco-friendly.
  • 39% would pick the lowest priced product, at $3, which is the least eco-friendly.

When it comes to demographics, 58% of Gen Zers are more likely to pick the mid-priced food option. Overall, by a margin of 68% to 39%, price is a more significant driver of food and beverage purchases than environmental sustainability.

The statistics show that certain age groups view food sustainability differently, and most people are not willing to pay even a couple bucks more for an eco-friendly product. This means food service providers must know their target audience when offering environmentally sustainable products and be mindful of how a higher price influences consumers’ willingness to buy a product. 

David Richard Headshot

About the Author

David Richard is the Associate Principal for the Provista Food Program

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