Integrating sustainability into the marketing of food services and food and beverage retail merchandising

Submissions Open February 16th 2024

Submit your paper here!


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identify sustainability as a critical challenge humanity will continue to face (United Nations, 2023). The exacerbation of climate change and a growing global population are putting unprecedented strains on our food systems, affecting environmental impact (climate change, pollution, resource depletion, and animal and plant species becoming endangered or extinct; de Boer and Aiking, 2021), nutrition, health, equity, efficiency regarding energy, water, and carbon (Béné et al., 2019). Addressing the forthcoming issues in our distressed food systems due to climate change will demand complex and nuanced strategies, far beyond the simplistic notion of merely increasing food production (Béné et al., 2019). Specifically, SDG 12, which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, has a profound relevance to marketing practices in the realms of food services and food and beverage retail merchandising.
This urgency aligns with the marketing sector, especially within food services and food and beverage retail, which are pivotal in shaping consumer habits and, thus, have a significant role to play in advancing sustainability. Given this backdrop, this special issue invites scholarly contributions that explore innovative ways to intwine sustainability into the food service and food and beverage retail marketing. A recent systematic literature review has highlighted a gap in the literature, particularly a lack of focus on the broader spectrum of SDG goals beyond number 12 in consumer behavior research (Voola et al., 2022) and in B2B research (Voola et al., 2022). 
Inviting greater scholarly input in resolving sustainability issues through marketing, Kemper and Ballantine (2019) categorize multiple sustainability views and outline three conceptualizations of sustainability marketing: Auxiliary Sustainability Marketing (which focuses on the production of sustainable products), Reformative Sustainability Marketing (which extends the auxiliary approach by promoting sustainable lifestyles and behavioral changes), and Transformative Sustainability Marketing (which further extends the auxiliary and reformative approaches by advocating for the transformation of current institutions and norms, and critical reflection). Kemper et al. (2020) emphasize the role that marketing academics play in advancing sustainability education and research. Indeed, marketing is implicated in both the problems and solutions to sustainability; it has roots in consumerism and materialism, but it also possesses the ability to educate and bring about behavioral change, and to alter product offerings (Borland & Paliwoda, 2011; Varey, 2011). Consequently, marketers have a significant opportunity to strategically cultivate and leverage consumers' engagement with climate change, encouraging greener and more pro-environmental behaviors in order to mitigate the effects of climate change (Odou & Schill, 2020). 
Retail initiatives play a crucial role as intermediaries between suppliers and consumers, facilitating efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Additionally, retailers, given their distinct position in the supply chain, can promote and legitimize a heightened focus on social issues throughout the supply chain (Vadakkepatt et al., 2021). However, the motivations driving the transformation of business models toward sustainability vary, encompassing predominantly economic factors alongside social and cultural considerations (Belyaeva et al., 2020). Steenis et al. (2023) point out that companies frequently highlight the 'green' advantages of products that are only partially more sustainable than alternatives, such as those featuring sustainable packaging but with similar product ingredients. Such strategies may create a perception gap between claims and reality, and this discrepancy can lead consumers to feel misled. As a result, companies need to be aware of the potential risk of greenwashing. 
The greater goals of sustainability can also be achieved through the alteration of consumers’ dietary decisions. Currently, factors such as price, convenience, taste, and health predominantly influence food choices. Shifting towards more sustainable eating patterns requires a comprehensive understanding of how consumers perceive and value 'sustainability' within the context of the food supply chain. A meta-analysis of consumers' willingness to pay for sustainable food products (Hellali et al., 2023) shows that the average willingness to pay (WTP) premium for sustainability is 29.5% overall. Factors such as gender, region, sustainable attributes, and food categories impact the WTP estimate, indicating that it is higher for Asia than for North America. Moreover, framing positive information within an environmental or health context significantly impacts the willingness to pay for upcycled foods, more so than messages focused on the economy. 
Additionally, with the innovation taking place in the food and beverage sector to minimize environmental footprint, a large number of alternative food and beverage products have been introduced. In response to this industry shift, researchers have investigated and discussed the possibility of increasing consumer acceptance of these products. A comprehensive meta-review (Onwezen & Dagevos, 2023) on consumer studies regarding meat reduction and alternative protein acceptance indicates that the most prominent factors influencing behavior are motivational and opportunity drivers, such as motives, emotions, awareness, taste, and the physical environment. Increasing awareness of the benefits of alternative proteins from an early age (Hémar-Nicolas et al., 2022) could boost their acceptability, particularly for discontinuous innovations or exceptionally new products emerging in the food sector, like algae-based products, insects, cultured meat, and fermented products. Thus, it is necessary to discuss consumer psychology and marketing initiatives that can break the barrier to alternative food consumption (e.g., celebrity endorsement, packaging design, social norm activation) and promote alternative food products that might involve negative and unfamiliar perceptions (Baker et al., 2016; Legendre & Baker, 2021). 
Advertising plays a crucial role in encouraging consumers to adopt sustainable behaviors, such as limiting food waste by addressing the issue on social media (Sutinen & Närvänen, 2022), or reacting positively to 'ugly' products by reducing causal uncertainty (Minton et al., 2023). There is a need for additional research to better understand consumers' sustainable or green engagement with brands, products, and companies, as the current understanding is lacking. Nudges can also be a strategy to motivate people to change their behavior regarding their food and beverage consumption. However, nudging has been criticized for being paternalistic, manipulative, and a violation of personal autonomy (Lades & Nova, 2023). Therefore, it is pivotal to encourage sustainable food and beverage consumption with respect for personal dietary choices and their cultural significance. 
This special issue aims to encourage a diverse array of research that can offer theoretical and practical insights into marketing sustainable food services, as well as food and beverage retail merchandising. The goal is to foster improved sustainability marketing practices in line with the UN’s SDG initiatives. Given the rapidly changing landscape of marketing, especially with the implementation of AI-based consumer analytics and the pursuit of greater sustainability goals in the food and beverage sector (Camarena, 2019), there is a pressing need for more academic research to uncover the impact. This special issue seeks to spur meaningful dialogue and generate a body of knowledge that informs and inspires actionable strategies to integrate sustainability more deeply into marketing strategies across the food industry. We welcome contributions that are conceptual, methodological, qualitative, quantitative, or pluralistic, grounded in relevant perspective

List of Topic Areas

  • B2B marketing strategies for food and beverage products, focusing on sales, persuasion, and connection between suppliers and buyers 
  • B2C communication strategies for sustainable food and beverage products, emphasizing both emotional and cognitive appeals 
  • Marketing alternative protein products (including plant-based, cultivated, and insect-derived products) 
  • Retail strategies for marketing alternative protein products 
  • The role of marketing in introducing alternative protein products into foodservice businesses 
  • Effective labeling practices for alternative protein food and beverage items 
  • The impact of generational differences on the understanding and perception of sustainable food and beverage marketing 
  • The influence of social norms on promoting alternative food and beverage choices 
  • The importance of environmental and ethical considerations in marketing sustainable food and beverage products 
  • Exploring the connection between gastronomic travel experiences and sustainable marketing 
  • Strategies for sourcing alternative protein ingredients for major foodservice operations like Sodexo, Aramark, and Compass 
  • Sustainable marketing approaches for food and beverage-related non-profit organizations 
  • The interplay between luxury and sustainable marketing in the food and beverage industry 
  • Sustainable merchandising practices for food and beverage products 
  • Branding techniques for promoting sustainability in food and beverage products 
  • Integrating AI technology into sustainable marketing of food and beverage items 
  • Addressing climate change in the marketing of food and beverage products 
  • Marketing approaches for food and beverage products from environmentally distressed regions 
  • The role of influencers and celebrities in endorsing and promoting sustainable food and beverage products

Submissions Information

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available here.
Author guidelines must be strictly followed. Please see here.
Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to ““Please select the issue you are submitting to”. 
Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.

Key Deadlines

Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 16/02/2024 
Closing date for manuscripts submission: 01/07/2024