Purpose – Although awareness of environmental sustainability has increased over the past few decades, the current market share of sustainable products remains low. Because of their market position, large-scale and high-volume consumer interactions, food retailers are appropriate venues to entice consumers to buy more sustainable foods. The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which food retailers are perceived to have embedded sustainability initiatives in their marketing strategies and to have taken sustainable tactical measures on the store floor. In addition, the study considered the roles played by social identification (SI) and by perceived external prestige (PEP). Design/methodology/approach – Based on a literature review and semi-structured qualitative interviews with the chief executive officers (CEOs) of Dutch food retailers, the authors conducted an online panel survey among the managers of these food retailers. Findings – The results of the study show the positive impacts of managers’ SI with a sustainable consumer group and managers’ PEP on the perceived environmental sustainability initiatives of Dutch food retailers. The study finds that managers’ SIs are powerful ways to engender employee loyalty. Moreover, organisations that are perceived to have more external prestige are perceived as being more capable of developing sustainability policies. Originality/value – The current study combines views from CEOs of large Dutch food retailers with supermarket manager’s perceptions of sustainability initiatives on a strategical and tactical level of an organisation. It uses insights from CSR, food retail and SI theory literature to explain these perceptions.