Environment claims and food ads: how much does the consumer know and what do food businesses need to consider?

read time: 2 min

Food businesses are recognising the importance of environmental impact and want to differentiate themselves from their competitors, which can include bold marketing and comparative claims. 

As part of the Advertising Standards Authority’s Climate Change and Environment project, it has delved into some interesting research on consumer understanding of environmental claims in food ads, which will result in new guidance for those in the food industry. 

The research specifically looks at the advertisement of meat, dairy and plant based alternative food and drink products. The study, which was released on 19 April 2024, comprised of 60 in-depth interviews across the UK from different demographic groups, 30 exploring green claims and 30 exploring claims in food and drink ads.

This article looks into the key findings from the research and highlights when new guidance will be published for food businesses.

What were the key findings from consumers?

  • Nutrition and health eating seen as the primary driver for purchase with environmental impact being a secondary driver. 
  • Overall, no desperate need for enforcement action but specific areas require further discussion and guidance to comply with the rules. 
  • Some concern over claims such as ‘good for the planet’, with concern that these types of claims couldn’t be verified. 
  • Imagery and terminology such as ‘natural’ could lead consumers to assume the products were also organic. 
  • Imagery around environmental, animal welfare and health benefits could lead the consumer to make certain assumptions. 
  • Vegan and plant-based viewed as clear and verifiable by consumers but this could lead to inaccurate descriptions being relied upon.
  • Consumers felt that claims and counterclaims around the impact of plant-based products versus animal products cancelled each other out. Consumers felt some claims were overly ‘preachy’ by vilifying lifestyle choices. 

What did the Advertising Standards Authority discover?

  • Most marketing messages revolve around nutrition, taste and price
  • Occasional use of ‘sustainable’ claims without being qualified. But many advertisers, large and small, had comprehensive sustainability frameworks in place.
  • Limited evidence around ‘regenerative farming’
  • Some evidence of unsubstantiated comparative environment impact claims 
  • No widespread evidence to show that meat, dairy and plant based food advertisers were routinely using ‘green’ or ‘natural’ imagery in misleading ways. 

When will new guidance for food businesses be published?

Expect guidance in summer 2024 around the use of ‘green’ and ‘natural’ imagery and on sustainability and regenerative farming-related claims.

For more information, please contact the commercial team.

Sign up for legal insights

We produce a range of insights and publications to help keep our clients up-to-date with legal and sector developments.  

Sign up