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Fewer UK shoppers act on sustainability concerns, says Nielsen

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 05-Jul-2010

Sustainability has become a mainstream concern for UK consumers but does not necessarily translate into altered shopping behaviours, according to a new survey from The Nielsen Company.

Several market researchers have speculated that 2010 would be the year in which consumers would regain their interest in sustainability – both in terms of the environment and wider ethical choices – as the world begins to emerge from the economic turmoil of the past two years.

And some areas have seen increased interest from UK consumers compared to 2007 levels, while others have remained resilient throughout the recession.

Fairly traded foods are one example, with the percentage of consumers who aim to buy Fairtrade products up from 29 per cent in 2007 to 32 per cent in 2010. Some certified Fairtrade products have done particularly well despite the economy – according to the global Fairtrade body, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, Fairtrade cocoa sales were up 35 per cent in 2009, while Fairtrade sugar sales grew by 57 per cent.

Organic takes a hit

However, other areas have been less resilient. In line with other surveys examining the organic sector, Nielsen found that interest in organic foods was down from 16 to 14 per cent, and there was a dramatic drop in the number of consumers actively seeking out foods grown without pesticides – from 35 per cent in 2007 to 23 per cent in January 2010.

“Organic has been one of the hardest hit casualties of the recession,” Nielsen said, noting that sales of organic groceries fell by 15 per cent last year compared with total food growth of five per cent in 2009.

Waste-saving packaging

“However, embracing some practices that contribute towards sustainability has made sense in the economic climate,” the market research organisation said. “Food waste became a big area of focus and here consumers found they could make a contribution to the environment and save precious pounds by being more careful about how much food they throw away.”

Respondents who said they actively seek out and buy products with minimum or no packaging has increased from 45 to 52 per cent, and the number of people claiming they actively try to buy products in recycled packaging has also increased from 38 per cent in 2007 to 43 per cent in 2010.

In other areas, there has been a small increase in the number of people who said they try to buy local products, up one point to 49 per cent in 2010. Meanwhile, new additions to the Nielsen poll include those who claim they actively try to buy British (62 per cent), 44 per cent said they try to buy free range meat and eggs, and 21 per cent say they try to buy sustainable fish.

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