Skip to content

How carbon labels change customer behavior in the food industry

Carbon labels have become the talk of the town in the food industry over the past years, with companies and institutions including them in their sustainability action plans. But what does research say about their effects on greener consumer behavior?

Research shows a clear pattern: modern consumers want to be more sustainable in their food choices, but they often don’t know how to - having little to no information on the climate impact of the different foods on the shelves, or not really understanding what climate data exactly means when they see it. 

However, both experiments and real-life case studies have been proving that sharing clear, recognizable and contextualized carbon labels can have significant effects on the conscious or unconscious choices consumers make when buying food

In this article we’ll dig into the effects of carbon labels on consumer behavior and perceptions and, most importantly, why food businesses should care.

All eyes on carbon labels 

According to a Deloitte study, 39% of consumers have reduced their meat and animal products consumption in 2022 as a step towards a more sustainable lifestyle, a significant increase from the 2021 results of the same survey. In general, there is a growing trend of consumers switching to sustainable brands, even if less known: even more, 64% of customers say that buying something sustainable makes them happy and satisfied with their purchase. 

While consumers’ intentions are generally good when it comes to conscious shopping, there is still quite a knowledge gap between what people think is sustainable and what actually is looking at the data. Surveys show consumers’ estimates of products’ carbon footprint are usually far from accurate, and there is in general scarce awareness on the impact of food on climate change.

Nevertheless, most consumers care about climate change and are willing to engage in new habits and behaviors against it. For this purpose, they find carbon labels more useful as a way to understand how they can actively make a change, rather than businesses simply making generic statements on their commitments and goals towards sustainability. In addition to this, carbon labeling allows businesses to provide tangible proof of their efforts to their customers, legitimating themselves as an environmentally committed company.

At the same time, carbon labels are a way to show naysayers that there’s no need to go fully vegan to have less impactful eating habits: even switching up a single carbon-heavy ingredient in your menu or weekly grocery list can make a big difference in the long run in terms of emissions, and that choice can be made easy and accessible for all when the right information is provided.

Which is why solutions like carbon labeling are being required and implemented by more and more companies as a simple, clear and effective way of showing products’ carbon footprint and environmental impacts to their clientele.

How does carbon labeling affect consumer behavior? 

Carbon labels intervene as a key predictor in climate-friendly food choices, bringing consumer’s attention to pressing issues like climate change, educating them on the different options they have in relation to this, and how these behaviors actually make an impact on the environment. In short, they help customers understand that there is a direct relationship between their food choices and GHG causing the current climate crisis.

A European survey by IPSOS on behalf of the sustainable chemical company Yara provided some significant data on consumers’ sustainable food preferences:  

  • 76% of European consumers in the survey said they would like to be able to see the carbon footprint of food products on the label
  • 58% consider climate impact an important factor when buying food and beverages
  • 69% would choose a climate friendlier item over a cheaper but less sustainable option
  • Three out of four (74%) Europeans think food companies should commit to reducing emissions of their products

"The report shows that Europeans are highly motivated to buy sustainable food to reduce their climate impact. This should be a wake-up call to the entire food industry. More than three out of four consumers would prefer to be able to read the carbon footprint on the food item.” 

-Birgitte Holter, VP of Green Fertilizers at Yara 

When it comes to assessing the effectiveness of carbon labels as a clear indicator of food sustainability for consumers, a recent study in the German market shows how the majority of shoppers (74%) use carbon labels when being instructed to identify a climate friendly product, finding them to be the most reliable indicator if compared to information on the product origin or the organic label. 

As a matter of fact, having a clear labeling scheme allows shoppers to develop awareness and make sense of a highly complex issue such as food-related environmental impacts, while at the same time making them feel empowered to do something good for the planet. For these reasons, consumer research on carbon labeling for food products shows positive results in proving how it is among the best performing instruments to nudge customers towards willingly lowering their food-related emissions.

Why should food businesses care?

By now you know that implementing carbon labels has a positive impact on the planet, but what about your business? 

Once again, recent data shows how labeling can actually boost your profit significantly by engaging environmentally-concerned customers:

  • Carbon labeling has an impact on customer loyalty and branding value, with 79% of customers saying they are changing their preferences based on products’ environmental or social impact. 
  • This is clear also on the companies’ side: 77% say that marketing themselves as more sustainable has improved their relationships with customers, and 63% that it increased their revenues.
  • On top of that, climate labeling your products contributes to putting your company on the map as a sustainability leader, which has been proven to attract skilled and committed employees looking to make purpose-driven career choices.

Becoming the new regulated industry standard

Consumers are not the only ones being increasingly concerned about climate change. Over the last few decades governments and legislators have been pushing towards more transparent labeling aimed at informing customers of products’ environmental or social attributes, in the direction of more sustainable food systems and consumption. The latest example of which being the Farm to Fork strategy proposed by the European Commission in 2023.

In this scenario, as the market is expected to become increasingly regulated, being early adopters of environmental regulations and standards such as carbon labeling can result in a business advantage for companies in the long run. 

Ever heard about first-mover advantage? In the case of sustainability compliance it is particularly crucial. In a longer-term perspective, lots of energy and resources can be saved if even SMEs start bracing themselves for legislations that are not concerning them just yet, but will most likely do in the near future. 

Confused as to where to begin? Klimato is here to help kickstart your sustainability journey!

Success stories from Klimato’s customers

When it comes to the effect Klimato carbon labels have on consumers, we like to let our diverse customers speak for themselves

As a matter of fact, numerous Klimato customers shared their feedback with us, marveling at how clients reacted to the climate labels on their menu. This was the case for Levy UK, which recently managed the 100% vegan food offer at Billie Eilish shows at the O2:

“Fan reaction has been amazing. Food sales against recent similar shows are 45% up! Just proving that being sustainable and going plant-forward can also be a smart commercial choice.” 

- Jonathan Davies, Managing Director at Levy UK + Ireland

Similarly, the staff at Courtyard by Marriott Stockholm saw immediate changes in their guests’ behavior when it came to meal choices: 

“We have definitely seen changes in customer choices due to the labels. If the customers are choosing in-between several dishes most of them prefer to choose the one with the lowest climate impact, of course. So it’s only been positive reactions, really.” 

- Petra Rörfors, Director of Sales and Sustainability at Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, Stockholm 

Food service leader Sodexo also chose to step up their sustainability game with Klimato’s services, weighing in on how the times are changing, making now the best moment to show customers you care about the environment:  

“The percentage of guests choosing the vegan option has doubled from 50 to 100 a day. When we served completely vegetarian on Fridays two years ago, we lost 30% of the guests. The change was at the right time and now public opinion has swung dramatically!” 

- Ulf Alexandersson, Location manager at Sodexo Electrolux 

At Klimato we know this well: sometimes a relatively small change can make a big difference in a business’ results, influencing both their reputation and brand image and their customers’ loyalty for a greener future for all.


Betz et al., 2022
Edenbrandt et al., 2021
​​Emberger Klein & Mendrad, 2017
Feucht & Zander, 2017 
Hartmann & Siegrist, 2017 
Kühne et al., 2023


Don't miss out - Sign Up For Our Newsletter!