Recession may push Fairtrade off consumer radar

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fairtrade foundation Coffee Fair trade

Fairtrade claims are currently less important to UK shoppers than health and even animal welfare product claims, data from MMR Research Worldwide indicates – while figures from the Fairtrade Foundation suggest ongoing growth.

The findings came out of MMR’s ‘Pulse’ programme, a food and drink trend-tracking information resource based on bi-monthly quantitative studies of 1,000 UK grocery shoppers. When asked in January which product claims they looked for while shopping, just 17% of respondents said Fairtrade – the lowest figure since the food and drink research firm started asking the question in September 2008.

'Healthy' was found to be the most looked for product claim, with 51% of people seeking out this claim, followed by 'low or no fat', a claim 38% of consumers look for. Third place was shared by 'free range', 'low or no saturated fat', 'natural, and ‘low or no sugar', all of which are looked for by 34% of consumers.

Other claims that ranked more highly than ‘Fairtrade’ included ‘free from artificial colours and flavours’, ‘wholegrain’, ‘recyclable packaging’, ‘locally produced’ and ‘animal welfare’.

“When UK consumers shop for food, there is a clear hierarchy of appealing product claims,”​ said Mat Lintern. MD of MMR Research Worldwide. “First, they seek products that promise to benefit themselves, then animal welfare and their local area, and then those that address the plights of the rest of the world.

He added that “particularly in times of economic hardship, ethical and provenance claims are simply too far outside shoppers' personal universe to warrant too much focus for the majority of brands”.

Actions count

These findings appear to conflict with data from the UK Fairtrade Foundation, which today released figures showing that sales of Fairtrade products increased by 40% to £1.17 bn during 2010.

“It is all very well polling people’s opinions, but it’s people’s actions that count. Even though people may be feeling the pinch themselves, they still realise they are better off than many third world producers and are more concerned and values than value,”​ Eileen Maybin, spokesperson for the Fairtrade Foundation, told FoodNavigator.

She said that several major moves to Fairtrade in 2010 contributed to this growth. These included Cadbury Dairy Milk, Nestlé’s four-finger KitKat, Sainsbury’s tea, coffee and sugar, Morrison’s roast and ground coffee, Tesco Finest Tea and Tate & Lyle retail sugar.

Fresh commitments for Fairtrade Fortnight 2011 include The Co-operative’s announcement that it is to convert all commodities that can be Fairtrade to Fairtrade by 2013, Waitrose’s conversion of the majority of Waitrose Tea to Fairtrade and the launch of Aldi’s first Fairtrade product range.

Mr Lintern said he accepts that sales of Fairtrade products are on the rise, but that it has more to do with the proliferation of these products.

“When you consider that in some categories, like tea and coffee, and chocolate, nearly all the items on shelf are Fairtrade, it is no wonder sales are growing. But we’re not looking at sales – we’re looking at what is relevant to consumers.”

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