Horizons #73: Sustainability labelling – where are Australia’s key grain export markets heading?

01 June, 2022

by Dr Chris Carter, AEGIC Senior Economist

Labelling trends in Asian markets reveal a potential opportunity for Australian grains.

Opportunities for Aussie grains are on the rise in South East and northern Asia as consumers increasingly look at not just price, but sustainability and health benefits, when choosing grain-based foods.

Labelling on products can assure a consumer that the product fits with their values around sustainability and health. Recent research by AEGIC scrutinised the labelling claims on grain products in South East and northern Asian markets. We investigated the type of claims made on these products, the food sectors they are used in, and the prevalence of claims on new food products. And, we looked ahead at leading markets to get an indicator on the direction in which labelling could go.

In the interest of brevity, we’ll just report here the differences in the way sustainability claims are made on grain food products.

Comparing the labelling claims in the Indonesian and the Japanese markets, two different stories emerge. The Indonesian market (Figure 1) displays an ongoing trickle of sustainability labelling, mostly relating to the recyclable nature of the packaging. Since 2019 the labelling has expanded to highlight the sustainability of the supply chains, and even carbon neutral claims are now made on some products. Use of these types of claims is increasing, though not at a rapid pace.

Figure 1: Sustainability labelling on grain-based food products in the Indonesian market. Data: Mintel, 2022. Density may exceed 100% indicating some products use multiple claim types.

In Japan, which has higher incomes and greater wealth than Indonesia, adoption of sustainability labelling since 2018 has been rapid (Figure 2). Labelling claims about the product packaging being recyclable, with sustainable supply chains, and being environmentally friendly, are increasingly evident. The claims imply that consumers are concerned with activities within supply chains (sustainable/environmental), as much as considering the effect of rubbish generated by using the product (recyclable).

Figure 2: Sustainability labelling on grain-based food products in the Japanese market. Data: Mintel 2022

While the adoption of sustainability labelling has accelerated in Japan, there is still a long way to go before the frequency of use matches that of northern European countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway (Figure 3). In these countries, where income and wealth is also high, sustainability claims appear on nearly 50% of all products, compared to 25% in Japan and 15% in Indonesia.

Figure 3: Sustainability labelling on grain-based food products in select Northern European markets. Data: Mintel, 2022

Environmental messaging and the sustainable production of inputs have long been used in labelling claims in the northern European market. The example of these countries might point to where South East Asian and north Asian countries may head regarding sustainability labelling, especially as Asian consumers become increasingly conscious of sustainable consumption.

As a bonus experiment, we asked our social media followers on LinkedIn and Twitter to choose the sustainability label they most look for as a consumer, with about 50 responses.

The results suggest that recyclability and sustainable supply chains are high on the list of concerns among this subset of our digital audience.

As health and sustainability labelling trends intensify in Asian countries, the demand for Australian grain that can meet consumers’ sustainability requirements via certifications and systems to underpin labelling will only strengthen.

Meeting these requirements could be seen as an opportunity to create value for the Australian industry.

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Horizons: the AEGIC Economics and Market Insights blog

Expert grains industry analysis and commentary from AEGIC’s Economics and Market Insight Team on a range of big-picture topics that affect Australia’s export grains sector.

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