‘Meat Should Cost 3 Times More’: German Grocer Shows Consumers Hidden Environmental Price Of Food

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If the environmental cost of food production were factored into the price tag of products on supermarket aisles, then the prices of meat, dairy and cheese would be far higher. Now, a discount retailer in Germany is showing the “true cost” of foods as calculated by a scientific study as a part of its sustainability initiative to inform consumers of the impact of their purchases. 

In a new study commissioned by Penny, a discount retailer under the Rewe Group, one of Germany’s largest retail and tourism corporations, researchers from the University of Augsburg found that meat and dairy products should be priced significantly higher when the hidden environmental cost is considered. The scientists considered factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, the impact of fertiliser use and energy consumption in the production process. 

According to their calculations, minced meat should be nearly three times more expensive, while the price of cow’s milk and Gouda cheese should be doubled. 

We need to make the costs caused by our consumption clear. As a company in a very competitive market, we are undoubtedly part of the problem.

Stefan Magel, CEO of Rewe Group
Screenshot: Penny true cost of meat (Source: Chip.de)

“At the moment, environmental costs are not reflected in food prices. That burden falls instead on the general public and on future generations,” Tobias Gaugler, one of the researchers of the study, told The Local

Meanwhile, the markups on fruit and vegetable products would be much smaller, the team found. Organic products, in particular, would consistently see lower markups compared to conventionally farmed produce, with the exception of organically farmed meat, whose prices would still rise by 126% if the true environmental cost was priced in. 

With these findings, the Rewe Group has decided to open a new sustainability branch of its Penny discount chain in Berlin this month. As a part of the campaign, one in every eight of its own-brand products will now display the “true cost” of the food alongside its actual retail price. 

For instance, long-life milk will now show the “true cost” of €1.75 (US$2.06) alongside its retail price of €0.79 (US$0.93). A 250-gram package of organic minced meat, on the other hand, will display the “true cost” of €5.09 (US$5.99) next to its retail price of €2.25 (US$2.65). Customers will not have to pay the “true cost” and will ultimately only pay the retail price, but the campaign aims to raise awareness about the footprint of food so that better-informed choices can be made. 

Table graphic created by Heura Foods

At the moment, environmental costs are not reflected in food prices. That burden falls instead on the general public and on future generations.

Tobias Gaugler, study researcher

“We need to make the costs caused by our consumption clear,” Stefan Magel, CEO of Rewe Group, told the publication. “As a company in a very competitive market, we are undoubtedly part of the problem.” 

The team at the University of Augsburg say they hope that the environmental damage of food production will be gradually priced into the cost of more products in the future. 

If supermarkets adjusted their prices, it would probably lead to a clear shift toward more plant-based and organically produced products whilst also significantly reducing the impact on the environment,” said Amelie Michalke, co-author of the research.

As the footprint of food becomes a hot topic amongst conscious consumers, other companies around the world have taken to carbon labelling as an alternative approach to encourage informed purchasing decisions. Recently, Upfield, the parent company of multiple plant-based spreads and butters including Flora and Becel, announced it will display on-pack carbon footprint information on 100 million of its products by the end of next year

It followed similar moves by legacy vegan and vegetarian brand Quorn, who has rolled out low-carbon food labels on its best-selling products, and U.S. restaurant chain Just Salad’s decision to put carbon labels on every single one of its menu items. 


Lead image courtesy of Heura Foods, arranged by Green Queen Media (see original images by Heura).

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