Blog: Petah MarianEthical food: a complicated picture

Petah Marian | 13 September 2010

In recent years it has become easy to underestimate the importance customers place on the ethical credentials of what they are eating, with continued focus on price and the gloomy economic landscape.

However, IGD research found that around half of shoppers across the UK, France, Germany and Spain expect to be buying more food and grocery products with ethical credentials in the future.

Local sourcing came out as the most important issue, with over a third saying they will buy more locally produced food in the future. With France and Germany's rich local heritage it is unsurprising that 38% and 30%, said they would buy more, respectively.

More surprising, was that some 38% of British shoppers expect to buy more local and regional foods - a true testament to the increased drawing power of farmers markets, and the influence of celebrity chefs.

Fairtrade and animal welfare got fairly even levels of interest, with 24% across the four countries saying they will buy more of these products in the future. Animal welfare was most important for French consumers with 30% saying they will buy more products with high animal welfare standards in the future, although only 8% said the same in Germany. The lower figure in Germany is probably down to the dominance of the discounters and heavy price focus in the country.

Fairtrade's efforts seem to be working well in the UK, with some 28% of those surveyed saying they would buy more of its products in the future, while the news was less positive in Spain, with only 7% saying they plan to buy more Fairtrade products in the future.

Organic food found the least interest, with only 21% support, probably struggling with the barrage of claims over the past few years that the increased cost does not actually convey any extra health benefits.

Interestingly enough, the research found that while customers are interested in buying ethical products, the particular concerns that interest them vary by consumer. IGD chief executive Joanne Denny-Finch said: "Only 7% are interested in almost every ethical consideration relating to food. The majority focus on a smaller number of issues individual to them. So it's a complicated picture, even when we look at neighbouring European countries."

The upshot of all of this is that even though the focus at the moment mostly on price and finding ways of keeping it down, manufacturers and retailers can't neglect the increasing focus on how food is produced.


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