The SME survey supports the preparation of a new EU sustainable food system initiative, which aims to make the EU food system more sustainable by integrating sustainability into all food-related policies. The sustainable food system initiative will lay down general principles and objectives, together with the requirements and responsibilities of all actors in the EU food system. It is envisaged that the initiative is due to be adopted by the Commission in the second half of 2023. The SME survey on the EU sustainable food system proposal, launched with the support of Enterprise Europe Network, was open between 01 September and 31 October 2022.
SMEs underline the lack of consumer demand for sustainability products and the poor willingness to pay for sustainable products as the biggest barriers to a transition towards greater sustainability. As a consequence, enterprises that try to change their operations struggle to compete with less sustainable companies that are able to maintain lower production costs. Still, 17% companies (56 replies) already almost always implement sustainability approaches that go beyond legal requirements voluntarily, while 26% (86 replies) declare they do so frequently. Instead, 20% (65 replies) of companies declare that they are adopting extra sustainability approaches in their activities only occasionally.
Most companies believe that financial incentives, including grants, subsidies, and taxes, are the best measure to mitigate the possible negative impacts of sustainable requirements and market challenges. Other potential mitigation solutions include tax reliefs and providing clearer rules on sustainability.
Absence of official sustainability label, lack of consumers demand, and high costs are considered to be the main reasons for preventing the introduction of sustainability labelling. Nevertheless, most companies (52%, 177 replies) report having products that carry one or more sustainability, environmental, socio-economic, nutritional or animal welfare label(s). Overall, the environmental signalling label is the most frequently applied label among SMEs.