According to a paper published in Food Quality and Preference (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2021.104194), educating consumers on the environmental and nutritional benefits of upcycled ingredients increases their willingness to pay (WTP) for such products.
Across the globe, around 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted yearly. One way in which such loss can be minimised is via upcycling. In other words, upcycled food by-products could be used for new, valuable, and nutritional ingredients. Upcycled food is not only rich in dietary compounds such as proteins and fibres, among others, but it is also environmentally friendly. However, as noted in the paper's introduction, "There is a lack of market data, consumer studies, and specific labelling regulations regarding upcycled foods.”
The current study attempted to predict UK citizens' preferences and WTP for biscuits with upcycled defatted sunflower oilcake flour (upcycled biscuits). Researchers from the University of Reading used a hypothetical ranking experiment (RE) for this purpose. The biscuits were referred to as nutritional, with high protein values, and environmentally friendly, with a lower carbon footprint, to incentivise consumers' WTP to pay for the upcycled biscuits. Consumers were randomly divided into four different treatments. “In treatment 1, called ‘no information (NOINFO),’ 106 participants were not provided with information on upcycled biscuits’ benefits. In treatment 2, called ‘nutritional information (NUTINFO),’ 108 respondents were provided with nutritional information stating that the upcycled ingredient increased the biscuits’ protein content. In treatment 3, called ‘environmental information (ENVINFO),’ 108 respondents were provided with environmental information stating that the upcycled ingredient reduced the biscuits’ carbon footprint. Finally, in treatment 4, called ‘nutritional and environmental information (NUENINFO),’ 108 participants were provided with both nutritional and environmental information.” Researchers further explained, “In the RE, we included four attributes with two levels each to describe the different types of biscuits: “flour”, “protein”, “carbon”, and “price”… Two price levels were specified to approximately reflect the lower and upper market prices (£0.40/300 g and £1.50/300 g, respectively) of a typical 300-g pack of biscuits sold in UK stores.”
The results showed that consumers were willing to pay more money for the “source of protein” and “Carbon Trust label" biscuits. Further, there was a higher preference for upcycled sunflower flour over the most well common wheat flour; however, this was only the case if these products displayed their nutritional or environmental benefits. Researchers determined:
- “WTP will be higher when consumers are provided with information about nutritional benefits compared to when such information is not provided …
- WTP will be higher when consumers are provided with information about environmental benefits compared to when such information is not provided …
- WTP will be higher when consumers are provided with information about both nutritional and environmental benefits compared to when such information is not provided
- WTP will not be higher when consumers are provided with information about environmental benefits compared to when they were provided with nutritional information …
- WTP will not be higher when consumers are provided with information about both nutritional and environmental benefits compared to when they were provided with nutritional information only … [and]
- WTP will not be higher when consumers are provided with information about both nutritional and environmental benefits compared to when they were provided with ecological information only.”
Overall, the results showed consumers are willing to pay a premium price for upcycled products when they know their benefits—nutrition or environment-related. Further, consumers are also willing to pay more for products simply by knowing that upcycled foods can reduce food waste. The more knowledge consumers have about the benefits around upcycled ingredients and products, the higher consumers' WTP become. Interestingly, researchers speculate: "Although nutrition is more important than environmental concerns in driving food choices, consumers may associate upcycled foods more with the environmental benefits of reducing food loss and waste than with nutritional benefits. This may have counterbalanced the hypothetical stronger effect of nutritional information on respondents’ WTP.” They conclude, “Our results provide insights into consumers' acceptance psychology that can be useful for effectively communicating the benefits of upcycled foods to the public to maximise the chances of making them commercially viable." Indeed, this brings a great opportunity for the players within the nutraceutical industry looking for making their brands more sustainable to explore how to repurpose food by-products, upcycle foods into nutritious ingredients. Brands embracing sustainability and the use of upcycle ingredients in their products could reach higher sales among consumers.