Crafting messages to specific sustainability benefits may prove crucial.

Linking sustainability messages to food and beverage items may resonate positively with many Americans, including parents, women and millennials. Crafting messages to specific sustainability benefits may prove crucial.

The International Food Information Council Foundation offered insight into sustainability in its Food and Health Survey 2015. When asked how much thought they give to whether foods and beverages are produced in an environmentally sustainable way, 20% of respondents said a lot and 44% said a little. The numbers were higher for millennials or those age 18-34, with 25% saying a lot and 44% saying a little, and for parents, with 29% saying a lot and 40% saying a little.

Consumers in the study had various interpretations of foods in a sustainable diet. When asked to select three attributes of food in a healthy diet, 23% of people overall said foods that have a smaller impact on the environment and 23% also said foods that are produced in a socially responsible way. People who were healthier and people who had higher incomes, college degrees and a lower body mass index were more likely to give these two answers.

The two most popular answers overall were foods that represent a balanced, nutritious meal (39%) and foods that are affordable and readily available (25%). The on-line survey of 1,007 Americans ages 18 to 80 took place from March 13-26.

Lack of awareness of the term sustainability also was evident in the report “Diners’ Changing Behaviors; Sustainability, Wellness & Where to Eat” released by The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., this year. When dining out, consumers are more likely to recognize such terms as “’fresh,” “locally grown” and “seasonal.”

“General terms like ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethically sourced’ and ‘green’ certification are less meaningful to diners, likely because most are unsure of their meanings,” The Hartman Group report said, adding that sustainability is a broad, abstract term.

“While the majority of Americans claim some familiarity with the term ‘sustainability,’ most understand it to mean environment protection,” the report said. “Rather, today’s diners are strongly concerned about their food choices as they related to their health, the environment and treatment of workers, but they do not use the label ‘sustainability’ to describe their preferences.”

A majority of consumers, especially women and millennials, react positively to restaurants that offer sustainable foods or adopt sustainable practices, according to the report. They are open to sustainable meal substitutions, especially if offered relevant choices that meet their taste preferences.

For the report The Hartman Group contacted 1,554 U.S. adults through an on-line survey in November 2014.

Sustainability can have a positive impact on consumers’ viewpoints, according to “Sustainability in America 2015” from the Natural Marketing Institute. When consumers know that a company is mindful of its impact in the areas of health and sustainability, they are 58% more likely to try the company’s products or services, 53% more likely to buy the company’s products repeatedly, 45% more likely to tell friends and family about the company, and 30% less concerned with price.

“Uncertainty arises for companies in how to measure what type and how much of an impact, if any, these sustainable initiatives are having,” said Maryellen Molyneaux, managing partner for the Natural Marketing Institute, based in Harleysville, Pa. “In essence, are these sustainable initiatives having a positive impact on the environment or the company and how can the impact be measured? Even further, have these initiatives transformed consumer perceptions regarding the company, and if so, are they measurable changes?”