The standout performer was the Freedom Food certification scheme for meat, with sales rocketing 28.6% to £1.57 billion (€1.83 billion). The 25% hike in licensing fees could in part account for the impressive figures. Still, the fact rates can be increased so significantly in one go “is tribute [the scheme’s] popularity and significance in the UK food market”, noted the authors of the Ethical Consumer Markets Report 2016.
Demand for sustainable fish also continues to rise, with sales up 15.2% to £507 million. The market for vegetarian products grew by 6.3% to £710 million (€830 million), whilst organic continued its resurgence with sales up 4.5% to a shade over £1.74 billion (€2.03 billion).
The increase in the number of people following meat-free diets in the UK only partly accounts for the inflated sales of vegetarian products, explained Quorn’s head of category management Julian Cook. “Seventy-three percent of people who buy Quorn are not vegetarians.” Results from the ‘Green Shopping’ YouGov survey, published within the report, showed that over 50% of people made changes to their diet because of environmental or animal welfare concerns.
Laura Webb, from market analysts Kantar Worldpanel UK, said that growth in organic sales have come from “repeat shoppers who are [already] engaged with organic products ... there has been little growth from new shoppers in the last year, which could be an important group in order for this growth to continue”.
Food and drink represented almost a quarter (24%) of the UK’s £38 billion (€44.4 billion) market for ethical products in 2015, down slightly on the previous year (25%) due to significant growth in the ‘green car’ market.
The figures are “impressive” nonetheless, noted the authors, in the context of the 0.9% decline in the overall food and drink market. “This continued growth in ethical buying is also an encouraging trend at a point in time where global political developments, for those concerned about environmental and human rights issues, are not all that positive,” they explained.
But it wasn’t all good news. Free-range poultry and eggs didn’t have such a good year, with sales falling 5.2% and 3.6% respectively. Fairtrade also struggled for the second year running, with sales dropping 2.5% to around £1.57 billion (€1.83 billion).
A closer look at the statistics for Fairtrade suggests that a significant proportion of the £50 million (€58 million) decline can be attributed to the crash in the cane sugar market. In 2015, global cane sugar prices reached a six-year low, falling by a quarter in a year.
Michael Gidney, chief executive at the Fairtrade Foundation, said the figures still show that “British shoppers remain committed to Fairtrade, despite the turbulence in the grocery market”.
Fairtrade attracted criticism just before Christmas when it announced a new partnership with Mondelez. Other ethical schemes have also been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons recently.
An investigation by Repórter Brasil , published just this week, claimed that serious labour rights violations have taken place at Brazilian coffee farms linked to Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certification schemes. Sales of Rainforest Alliance-certified products flatlined during 2015, remaining at just over £2 billion (€2.34 billion) – inroads into the banana market offset market declines in other areas, the Ethical Consumer authors noted.