Sustainability is a complex and multifaceted concept that comprises environmental, economic, social, and cultural dimensions. Growing consumer concerns over the impacts of global meat production and consumption have led to increasing interest in sustainability initiatives and the use of sustainability labels. Yet, an understanding of what sustainability means to consumers in the context of meat and how consumers relate production-related credence attributes of chicken meat to sustainability remains limited. Between September 2019 and January 2020, an exploratory research study was conducted using a multi-method approach. Participants completed an online survey before participating in a series of eye-tracking choice tasks followed by in-depth interviews. The study revealed that the environmental dimension of sustainability is most important to consumers’ definition of a “sustainable food system”. Likewise, the sustainability of chicken meat products was most commonly associated with the perceived environmental impact of chicken meat production, followed by animal welfare aspects. Consumers made incorrect inferences about some sustainability labels and these inferences sometimes contributed to positive associations with sustainability. Consumers frequently associated a higher price with higher sustainability, indicating a belief that “doing the right thing” might cost more. This study provides new insights regarding consumers’ perceptions of production-related credence attributes and sustainability labels.
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