A survey commissioned by the European Commission Directorate-General for Trade found that among purchaser of products termed "sustainable", including beverages, furniture, clothing, games and printed materials, the food sector stood out, showing the highest growth of sustainable product sales in the last five years at over 18 percent. Retailers reported that 98 percent of food retailers reported increased sales of sustainable products over the past five years versus an average of 85% across all categories, nearly as many expected sales to increase in the next five years.

Nielson carried out an online survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries in 2015 and 68 percent said they were willing to pay extra for sustainable goods, up from 50% two years earlier. Companies that demonstrated a commitment to sustainability also saw their sales grow four times higher than those that did not.

The ITC survey is the first to investigate the sourcing strategies among retailers. Over 98 percent of respondents considered sustainability in product sourcing while 96 percent specifically bought from sources that were certified as socially or environmentally sustainable. 75 percent had sustainable sourcing commitments, which they implemented through voluntary sustainability standards or corporate codes of conduct.

The highest commitments to sustainable sourcing were among Dutch (91 percent) and German (84 percent) retailers. On surveys, consumers say they increasingly seek products that reflect ethical treatment of workers and are environmentally conscious.

Which sustainability standards are being applied? More than 60 percent of retailers in all eight sectors looked at were using more than three standards or codes for sourcing sustainable products. Marketing designations such as Organic and Fairtrade were the most frequently applied in the food sector. The report noted that 25 percent of retailers looked for organic labels for sourcing food products, and 15 percent of retailers used Fairtrade. In the beverage category that was higher, 26 and 21 percent of retailers used these standards for sourcing beverages in 2015-2017 respectively.

Though America leads the world in organic marketing, the EU is second largest market after the US for products with organic labels, according to the study. In the EU, Germany and France were the largestmarkets for organic products, with 10 billion and 7.9 billion euros respectively in retail sales, accounting for just over half of the EU market. Global retail sales of Fairtrade certified products rose over 80 percent, from 4.36 billion euros in 2010 to 7.88 billion in 2016, according to Nielson.

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