February 21/London/Environmental Leader -- Consumers are concerned about sustainability, but their understanding is limited and ecolabels rarely influence food purchases, according to a study by the European Food Information Council.

The “Sustainability labels on food products: Consumer motivation, understanding and use study,” which surveyed 4,408 respondents living in the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Poland, says consumers have a medium to high-level of concern with sustainability issues at a general level. That level of concern -- and understanding -- falls when it comes to making food and beverage choices.

The study, which was published in Food Policy, tested environmental and ethical aspects against nutritional value and price and found sustainability had no meaningful impact on food choice, across all product categories.

Consumer awareness of sustainability labels is generally low, but varies across the countries involved in the study, the study says. The Fair Trade Label has the highest recognition and understanding among consumers, compared to the Rainforest Alliance, the Carbon Footprint (working with the Carbon Trust) and the Animal Welfare logos.

On average, U.K. consumers correctly identified more than half of the four ecolabels shown, while the majority of Spanish and Polish survey respondents barely recognized more than one label.

Out of six categories -- chocolate, coffee, ice cream, breakfast cereals, ready meals and soft drinks -- consumers only showed concern about sustainability for coffee and ready meals.

Researchers says the results do not necessarily imply that sustainability information will not play a role in future food purchases. However, compared to health and nutrition-related issues, sustainability is more difficult to grasp and, as a result, it struggles to be relevant in a consumer’s mindset during purchases.