• Retail

During exceptional times, consumers are interested in domestic food

In retail, consumers feel the effects of global crises acutely and change the way they shop accordingly. One of the biggest trends that has cropped up in recent years involves the growing interest in domestic products, says Riikka Joukio, EVP Corporate Responsibility and Public Affairs at Kesko.

When the pandemic started, store shelves were emptied for a while and many consumers panicked about the sufficiency of food. The worry soon turned out to be unnecessary: neither the pandemic nor the war that broke out in Europe has undermined the availability of food on a large scale.

“With a few exceptions, products have been very available in Finland. To that extent, the impact of these exceptional times has been quite small for consumers. Instead, interest in the origin and domesticity of food has grown,” says Riikka Joukio, EVP Corporate Responsibility and Public Affairs at Kesko.

“Another theme that clearly emerged is the security of emergency supply. It already arose during the pandemic, and now with the war in Ukraine, the theme has become even more prominent.”

Actions for the benefit of the food producer

A good 80 percent of the products sold by K-food stores come from Finland. According to Joukio, domesticity is closely linked in the minds of consumers to Finnish work and food producers – themes that resonate widely in society.

Agricultural producers are now in dire straits as costs such as energy and feed prices rise.

“At Kesko, we strive to support domestic food producers in many ways. The most important thing is that we have a high degree of domesticity. We have opened purchase contracts and met with producers. We also have our Thank the Producer operating model, in addition to which we campaign diligently for Finnish food and local food,” says Joukio.

In Joukio's opinion, the food production chain needs close cooperation between primary producers, the food industry and grocery stores.

“It is in the interest of Finnish trade and the interest of Finns that food is produced in Finland now and in the future. We want to be involved in that work.”

Grocery stores influence sustainable choices

Consumers' sustainable purchasing decisions can be supported in grocery stores in many ways. Joukio reminds us that everything starts from the basics – such as what is offered in the store.

“About 1.2 million customers visit K-food stores every day, and the choices made in the stores matter. That's why it's our job to make sure that there are sustainable options for consumers.”

Consumers can be guided to sustainable choices in both traditional and modern ways. By presenting products, campaigns and, for example, adding local products to the selections, more sustainable options are brought closer to the customer. Support is also available on Kesko’s mobile application.

“We offer information to support purchasing decisions. For example, the K-Ruoka application allows you to monitor the carbon footprint, degree of domesticity and health information of your shopping cart,” says Joukio.

Packaging reduces food waste

According to Joukio, sustainability can also be seen in Finns’ attitudes towards product packaging.

“A clear desire from consumers is to reduce plastic and overpackaging. Along with that, we hope for opportunities for efficient packaging recycling, as well as easy instructions to support it.”

Even though packaging creates waste, Joukio reminds us of the ultimate purpose of packaging and its positive environmental impact. When the product is packed properly, a product’s shelf life can be improved many times over. From an environmental point of view, a product that spoils quickly causes a greater total load than packaging.

“All in all, only about two percent of the product’s carbon footprint comes from the packaging.”

In addition to packaging, the correct handling of the products as well as the packaging size and sales lots are also important. Joukio points out that, for example, in areas with a lot of small households, family packs do not sell as well.

Sustainability is increasingly being enforced - cooperation is needed

Food waste has a big impact on the carbon footprint of an individual store. That's why “last chance” shelves are also used in K-food stores, where consumers can buy dated products at a cheaper price. Along with them, so-called waste products have also been developed: for example, overripe fruit is used to make juices or banana ice cream.

“We are collaborating with the Finnish beverage company Olvi to create a non-alcoholic orange long drink. The overripe oranges used in the beverage come from our central warehouse,” says Joukio.

In addition to voluntary actions, legislation mandating sustainability will become stricter in the future. Joukio anticipates that, for example, requirements regarding recycling will increase.

“A lot will happen in packaging development in the years to come. Fulfilling all future obligations requires a lot of cooperation throughout the packaging value chain.”

This article is part of a series where different stakeholders discuss the challenges we are facing now and in the future regarding food availability, safety and distribution chains. The articles are published following of our virtual roundtable.

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