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Consumers want more info on ethical credentials, survey

By Jess Halliday , 25-Aug-2009

UK consumers have a great desire to learn about conditions for food producers in poor countries, a new survey indicates, which food manufacturers can satisfy by flagging up their ethical sourcing efforts.

The UK fairtrade market was worth £712.6m in 2008, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, and more growth is expected even in the tricky climate of 2009.

In a survey of 1000 shoppers conducted by IGD in April and May this year, some 52 per cent of respondents said they feel pay and conditions if people producing grocery goods in poorer countries is an important consideration.

Fifty-four per cent said they would like more information to be available about conditions for producers, and 19 per cent more said they would like information to be publically available for scrutiny.

The findings highlight the need for food and beverage firms to continue ethical sourcing efforts – and to communicate these clearly on packs and in marketing materials.

“This IGD research underlines that the public are giving companies permission to care,” said Harriet Lamb, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation. “But credit is also due to these leaders – from dedicated companies like Café Direct to major players such as Sainsbury’s who have taken the public permission and run with it.”

Other major manufacturers have made headway in proclaiming their sourcing policies for certain products loudly include Unilever, which has bought only Rainforest Alliance certified tea since 2007. Tate & Lyle, too, it moving all of its sugar over to fairtrade by the end of this year.

Buying behaviour

As for actual buying behaviour, 59 per cent considered themselves ‘active supporters’ of fairtrade, and 19 per cent said they specifically choose stores with a wide fairtrade range and buy fair trade where possible.

With the wider grocery market worth some £140bn, clearly not all consumers who say they are willing to buy fairtrade actually do so for the bulk of their shopping.

A spokesperson for IGD said there is often a gap between reported and actual behaviour in consumer research.

The research did not investigate barriers to buying fairtrade. But the spokesperson pointed out that not all product categories currently have fairtrade options. Moreover, while some products like coffee, tea and chocolate are well-known for fairtrade offerings, some consumers may be unaware of others, such as sugar.

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