Ethical shoppers no longer seen as niche

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 19th June 2008

New research from international food and grocery expert IGD has revealed that ethical food shopping is now mainstream in Europe as consumers base their purchase decisions on a growing number of factors.

Tens of millions of shoppers across Europe regularly consider factors such as organic, Fairtrade or local sourcing when making food purchasing decisions. “Until recently, ethical food shoppers were seen as niche,” Chief Executive Joanne Denney-Finch told IGD’s Global Retailing conference. “Now as many as seven out of ten Europeans we surveyed buy ethically at least some of the time, and a quarter are dedicated shoppers who consider two or more ethical factors when shopping.”

Ms Denney-Finch advised that ethical concerns varied across Europe but were at the forefront of consumers minds. “Priorities vary across Europe: the French are most interested in environmental issues; the Dutch are concerned about animal welfare; local sourcing is a priority for Poles whereas British shoppers are interested in a wide range of ethical issues,” she added. “But there is immense growth potential for brands that can develop and emphasise ethical credentials, and tailor them to local markets at the appropriate time.”

The report unveils strikingly different behaviours and priorities around Europe. Brits are leading the way, with 41% incorporating more than one ethical issue into their buying decisions, whereas fewer than one in seven Spaniards (12%) or Poles (14%) are dedicated ethical shoppers.

The issues of price (54%) and availability (36%) are seen as key barriers to the further growth of ethical shopping across Europe. “The current combination of rising commodity prices and the global credit crunch could slow the rise of ethical shopping but is unlikely to reverse it. Ethical shopping is based on deep-seated beliefs and people will not backtrack on these lightly,” Ms Denney-Finch claimed. “Increasingly, shoppers want products that combine ethical advantages, rather than a single issue. The challenge is for companies to communicate and label clearly to help shoppers navigate through this wide range of issues.”

Ms Denney-Finch suggests the food and grocery industry is embracing ethical and sustainable practices but believes there is great potential for companies who take a risk by becoming more socially responsible. “The winning companies of tomorrow will combine value with sustainability and develop new products and services at a competitive price for increasingly eco-conscious and socially-conscious consumers,” she concluded.

The Fairtrade Foundation, responsible for the Fairtrade trademark placed on sustainable food produced with fair terms of trade for workers in developing countries, has also suggested that consumer goods companies, who fail to engage with their consumers on sustainability issues, will be outpaced. “Why wouldn’t any company want to do its part?” Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, queried. “It’s good for poor farmers and workers, their consumers are crying out for Fairtrade products, and so it will be good for the company too.”

Their belief is based on sales of fairtrade products rising 47% last year coupled with findings of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Sustainability Report and the Food Marketing Institute, which both found sustainable shopping to be a growing trend.

Supermarkets, like manufacturers, have been updating their offerings to meet the changing desires of consumers by improving their stores to reduce their carbon footprint and increasing stocks of fairtrade and “green” products.