Bridging the attitude-behavior gap: What foodies are doing wrong and how Blockchain technology can help

Jonas Jonas

16. Apr, 2022 9 min. readtime

You are somewhere in the center of London. Actually, you just wanted to leave your front door to go to the bakery next door. Now you no longer know where you are. You have lost all orientation. When you look down you can’t see your feet anymore, when you stretch your arms forward your hands disappear. Everything around you is hidden under a heavy and all smothering gray. You panic and want to take a deep breath to calm down, but what flows into your lungs is not air, but acrid smoke. You start to wheeze and cough. From all around you, you hear other people doing the same, but you can’t see anyone.

As many as 12,000 people lost their lives in the “Great Smog,” a toxic cloud created by industrial processes in central London in 1952 (1). The term environment then took on real meaning. More and more people became interested in this so-called “environment”. Especially the 68 movement, which was inclined to flowers and grass, was committed to a better and more conscious relationship of people to it. After many protests, the first UN climate conference was held in 1972 at the suggestion of Sweden. This conference, which was attended by 112 countries (probably mainly because of the promised Kjötbollur), stated, among other things, the following three points: Humans can change their environment, the environment is important to humans, and all people, nations, and corporations must work to preserve a livable environment (2). Wow. This terrific new insight after only about 300,000 years of human existence.

Attitude does not lead to behavior 

Despite this incredible discovery of human dependence on its environment, half a century later problems such as oceans full of plastic, air polluted by particulate matter, nitrates in groundwater, glyphosate in the fields, labor rights violations in developing and newly industrializing countries and, above all, climate change are more acute than ever. According to the behavioral models of the 1970s (3), which assumed that knowledge of environmental problems would lead to a more sustainable attitude and appropriate behavior among people, the majority of people should have long since adopted a more environmentally conscious behavior.

However, studies (4) refute these models by showing that although you and I state that we want to act in a sustainability-oriented way, we do not actually put this into practice. Thus, we do not act only according to our knowledge and attitude. This creates what is known as an Attitude-Behavior Gap. This gap can be seen as one of the very big hurdles on the way to a life in harmony with our planet.

What does it look like in the food industry, for example? The trend towards sustainable food products can be seen in the increased sales figures in some sectors related to sustainability aspects. For example, sales of (so-called) FairTrade products have grown from 533 million euros in 2012 to 1.3 billion euros in 2018 (5). In the same period, turnover from the sale of (so-called) organic food products has increased from 7.4 billion euros to 10.9 billion euros (6). While total sales in the food industry grew by 5.6 percent between the years 2012 and 2018 (7), sales of FairTrade products grew by 144 percent and those of organic products grew by 47 percent. However, the share of FairTrade products has never approached the one percent hurdle of total food industry sales during the period, and the share of organic products remained below seven percent.

The market for sustainability thus lags far behind its potential. A survey conducted by the European Commission (8) in all 28 member states concluded that environmental protection is very important to 56 percent of Europeans. According to the Consumer and Media Analysis 2020 (9), it is still very important to 38 percent of all Germans that the company from which they buy a product acts in a socially and ecologically responsible manner. This is becoming increasingly important, especially among the younger generations. According to FirstInsight (10), over half of Gen. X and over 60 percent of Gen. Y & Z prefer sustainable companies. So there really is an attitude-behavior gap in the food industry as well.

The underestimated problem of sustainable consumption 

But what might fair foodies now try to do to tap into their true market potential? The first and seemingly most obvious measure should be to ensure that sustainable food products are competitive in the classic purchase decision categories compared to classic food producers (11). These classic purchase decision categories can primarily include price, quality, availability, and brand recognition (12). If fair foodies are already lagging behind in these areas, it can be surmised that further attempts to narrow the Attitude-Behavior Gap among potential consumers will largely fall flat.

However, many foodies manage to be competitive in these areas. In terms of price, fair foodies keep up well with other suppliers who offer comparable products of comparable quality. The time when sustainability was associated with inferior quality has long since passed. Products from fair foodies are now available in every supermarket and are also well placed on the internet. No one has to go to the weird-smelling organic alternative corner store on the outskirts of town to buy a piece of tofu. And best of all, more and more fair foodies are making it out of the shadows of the eco-niche and into the limelight of the big food world. Foodies like Veganz, LemonAid, FritzKola, Taifun-Tofu, Lycka, Oatly, Beyond Meat, Voelkl, Rapunzel Naturkost and Solino are just the tip of a huge iceberg.

But if we are doing so well in these areas, why is the gap still so large? Why do we still have so many problems caused by the food industry? The answer: data is the problem! More specifically, the lack of information, the incomprehensibility of information, and the mistrust of information (13). The less product information there is, the more complex it is, and the more it contradicts itself, the more likely neither you nor I will buy the product. It is important for Foodies to find out what information potential buyers are asking for and to provide it as clearly as possible. It is also important that they build trust towards this information.

It happens again and again that we consumers have problems in assessing the information about origin and production conditions (14). 90% of German consumers do not trust foodies (15) and 80% do not trust the information provided on packaging labels (16). The problem: When you go to the supermarket to buy a banana, for example, you will see the size, shape and color of the banana, but you will not be able to easily identify its sustainability. But if a foodie’s product differentiation strategy is higher sustainability at the cost of a slightly higher price, then all that’s left in the end is the higher price – personally, that doesn’t catch me, does it? Of course, there are many sustainability romantics (like me and maybe you) who naively think they’d rather buy a sustainable product based on speculation than one they can be sure isn’t sustainable. But if fair foodies only target this group, they can never reach their true market potential and the environmental problems we already have today will become more and more dramatic.

I talked to the marketing director of one of the foodies mentioned above about two years ago when he visited my university at the time. He gave a long and very interesting talk about how sustainable his company was. To my somewhat cheeky question why I should believe the sustainability of the product he presented, he answered that his company would visit the plantations once or twice a year and they would also take photos. He himself had also been there. By my query as to why I should trust him, he became slightly confused. “Like why…of course I can be trusted…!” – WOW! He then at least said at the end that yes, the products were certified.

Certificates were actually a good tool to counter mistrust about the sustainability of products. They collect hard-to-generate and complex data and compress it to a symbol that you and I can then see and understand on the product. However, there are now over 1000 certificates in Germany alone; you could say we are “Lost in Label” (17). Many companies simply certify their products themselves – not so super confidence-inspiring. Certificates are also always a look into the past. There is (in the best case) an inspection and after that the product is certified for a period of time without anyone caring what is really going on. Furthermore, unfortunately, multi stakeholder certificates, which actually have structures that are promising, are in the public eye due to shortcomings (18). The more products a certifier has to check and the more complex their production, the more classical controls reach their limits and the more trust is lost in the instrument of certification.

Blockchain can help  

A blockchain is actually just a very unspectacular database on which ones and zeros are stored. Like a USB stick, for example. However, if someone were to hand you a USB stick with product information, this would probably not inspire too much confidence in you. How would you know who uploaded the data to the USB stick, if the data is correct and if it ever was, if it hasn’t been altered by someone. The blockchain, however, has a few properties that a USB stick does not, which is why you can trust the information on it.

It is a back-to-end database. All data that is stored on a blockchain remains on it forever. Data that is newly added must not contradict the previous ones in order to be stored. So one can still lie on the blockchain if this is not prevented by other additional technologies. However, one can then no longer contradict oneself. Pretty hard to cheat in our complex world. In addition, the data of a blockchain is not stored in one place, but in many different ones. So if someone tries to manipulate the data that is stored with her or him, then everyone else can not care, because their data remains integer.

So blockchain is the perfect technology to store data with trust and share it with others. This is true for B2C and B2B relationships. All that is needed is an interface to the Blockchain on which the collected data could be displayed in an understandable and clear way. It would have to be a device with a camera that could, for example, scan a QR code on a food package and then show data from a blockchain on a display via internet access. It’s a pity that you don’t carry such a smart device around in your pants pocket or handbag… If you did, you could use this device to retrieve exactly the information that interests you. Do you want to have data highly compressed and clearly arranged like a seal, or do you want to see the entire history of the product from its genesis in a field to its exodus on your plate? It’s your choice from now on! Either way, you can trust the information you see. Thanks to innovative technology!

Information asymmetries are eliminated, all parties involved in the product (such as growers, suppliers, producers, NGOS, government agencies and consumers) now know what attributes it has. Externalized costs, such as pesticides, air pollution or child labor are therefore disclosed, or in the case of fair foodies, it is disclosed that they do not exist. For the first time this creates the much needed level playing field between normal food producers and fair foodies. The product differentiation strategy of sustainability can finally unfold its full potential in competition against the product differentiation strategy of low price. Fair foodies can thereby realize their market potential. You and I now have the information to shape a better world with every purchase decision we make. Environmental problems caused by our consumption will improve. All without harsh restrictive government intervention, just through credible transparency.

Let’s fix Blockchain on the horizon as the polar star of the sustainability movement, so that it navigates us out of the all-suffocating gray and sickeningly acrid smoke of our current economic interactions.



  1. Davis, Devra L/ Bell, Mischelle L./ Fletscher, Tony (2002): A Look Back at the London Smog of 1952 and the Half Century Since.
  2. Sohn, Louis B. (1973): Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment.
  3. Kollmuss, Anja/ Agyeman, Julian (2002): Mind the Gap — Why Do People Act Environmentally and What Are the Barriers to Pro-environmental Behavior?
  4. Kollmuss, Anja/ Agyeman, Julian (2002): Mind the Gap — Why Do People Act Environmentally and What Are the Barriers to Pro-environmental Behavior?
  5. TransFairs, Daten von: Statista (2018): Umsatz mit Fairtrade-Produkten in Deutschland in den Jahren 1993 bis 2017.
  6. BÖLW, Daten von: Statista 2019: Umsatz mit Bio-Lebensmitteln in Deutschland in den Jahren 2000 bis 2018.
  7. Statista (2018): Umsatz der Lebensmittelindustrie in Deutschland in den Jahren 2008 bis 2017.
  8. European Comission (2017): Attitude of European Citizans Towards the Environment.
  9. Verbrauchs- und Medienanalyse (2020): VuMA Touchpoints 2020.
  10. FirstInsight (2020): The State of Consumer Spending.
  11. Papaoikonomou, Eleni/ Ryan, Gerard/ Ginieis, Matias (2011): Towards a Holistic Approach of the Attitude Behaviour Gap in Ethical Consumer Behaviours — Empirical Evidence from Spain.
  12. Papaoikonomou, Eleni/ Ryan, Gerard/ Ginieis, Matias (2011): Towards a Holistic Approach of the Attitude Behaviour Gap in Ethical Consumer Behaviours — Empirical Evidence from Spain.
  13. Vermeir, Iris/ Verbeke, Wim (2006): Sustainable Food Consumption — Exploring the Consumer “Attitude-Behavioral Intention” Gap.
  14. Papaoikonomou, Eleni/ Ryan, Gerard/ Ginieis, Matias (2011): Towards a Holistic Approach of the Attitude Behaviour Gap in Ethical Consumer Behaviours — Empirical Evidence from Spain.
  15. The European Consumer Organisation (2018): Food Labels — Tricks of the Trade.
  16. LabelInsights (2016): Food Revolution Study 2016.
  17. Utopia (2019): Lost in Label?
  18. Deutsche Stiftung Meeresschutz (2018): Greenwashing Skandal: MSC-Fischlabel; Welt-Sichten 2018: FSC — Ein Siegel, das den Wald kaum schützt; NDR (2016): Schummel mit “fair” gehandelten Lebensmitteln.