Ethical food under threat from consumer confusion

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Mintel, Food, Business ethics

'Ethically sourced' food, a niche market that has soared in recent
years, could become susceptible to growing consumer confusion and
scepticism.

A new study from Mintel has found that despite high awareness of key environmental concerns, six out of ten (60 per cent) British adults are not fully switched on to green and ethical issues, and as many as one in five adults (20 per cent) are 'too busy to care'. A further 17 per cent are suffering from 'green overload', having become cynical about the whole movement, while a further one in four (23 per cent) are simply unsure of what they need to do to lead a more ethical way of life. These findings could have important implications for the growing 'ethical' food industry. Mintel​ recently forecast that UK shoppers would spend over £2 billion on ethical​ foods in 2006, up by a massive 62 per cent since 2002. "People in Britain today are clearly moving towards more ethical lifestyles and are starting to realise that their actions all have consequences,"​ said the report. "As British shoppers increasingly look to shop with a clear conscience, Mintel forecasts that the market will continue to grow for the foreseeable future."​ According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, there were some 70 ethical food products launched in 2005 in the UK alone, up from just 25 in 2002. And within the ethical foods market, Fairtrade remains the star performer in terms of sales growth. Fairtrade was set to be worth £230 million by the end of 2006, experiencing some 265 per cent growth between 2002 and 2006 alone. What is more, Mintel predicts that Fairtrade will see a further 138 per cent growth over the next five years, with sales crashing through the half a billion pound mark (£547 million) by 2011. It is vital for the sector therefore that consumer fatigue does not set in. The Mintel survey highlights the challenges facing those benefiting from the growing 'ethical' trend. "There have been an increasing number of media reports highlighting the complexities of environmental concerns and the difficulties that operators in the market face," said Angela Hughes, consumer research manager at Mintel. "But our research shows that for many consumers too much information and mixed messages are causing them simply to 'switch off'. "Although there are no easy solutions to many of the environmental and ethical dilemmas, which face society today, most consumers clearly need to be presented with simpler messages." Money remains an important fact. Some 41 per cent of respondents said that they would make green changes as long as it did not cost them too much money, while some three in ten adults (32 per cent) would be more ethical if there were direct benefits to them, such as better-tasting or healthier food. "It is clear that those promoting green or ethical products and services will need to highlight the personal benefits these changes will make to people's lives and not just focus on the wider picture," said Hughes. Mintel's Green and Ethical Consumer report is available priced £1695.

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