Ethical food choices influencing product development, research finds

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 21st December 2011

Data just published by an international research body, Innova Market Insights, suggests that despite financial constraints consumer interest in making ethical food choices continues to increase.

Innova Market Insights’ research found that products positioned on an ethical platform accounted for over 7 per cent of total global food and drinks launches recorded in the 12 months to the end of October 2011. This is up from 6.5 per cent since the same time in the previous year.

According to the research, while many products take an ethical stance based on packaging (by increasing recyclability and using materials from renewable sources), there has been growing interest in locally-sourced foods, as well as products using certification schemes with regard to Fairtrade, sustainability and animal welfare.

Innova reports that certain sectors have seen particularly high levels of interest in Fairtrade products, with chocolate, hot beverages and fruit, particularly bananas, leading the way.

The research found that Fairtrade and ethical cocoa production has increased rapidly in recent years, encouraged by the world’s leading confectionery companies starting to take the concept on board for their high-profile market-leading mainstream brands.

In the hot drinks sector, products positioned on an ethical platform accounted for nearly 13 per cent of total launches recorded by Innova in the 12 months to October 2011, reflecting early uptake of Fairtrade coffee, tea and cocoa.

Ethical products accounted for over a quarter of total egg product launches in the year to the end of October 2011, according to Innova. The trend identified a strong focus on Europe, probably reflecting preparations for the EU-wide ban on the use of conventional battery-type cages for laying hens, which comes into force in January 2012. As a result an increasing number of egg brands are emphasising the use of barn-reared, free-range and organic management.

Seafood product launches and claims

The Innova Database recorded that 23 per cent of global fish and seafood launches carried an ethical positioning of some kind in the 12 months to the end of October 2011, up from 19 per cent in the previous 12 month period

Sustainability is the major focus of this, with growing numbers of products launched carrying MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification, and ongoing interest in capture methods, such as rod and line rather than nets for tuna, and maintaining stocks of threatened species.

This interest in sustainability is, again, most prevalent in Europe. Europe accounted for over 64 per cent of global launches on an ethical platform, compared with a 50 per cent share of total fish and seafood introductions.

Lu Ann Williams, Research Manager at Innova Market Insights said that despite financial pressures, it is apparent that there is still ongoing consumer interest in ethical options and taking a longer-term perspective on choices that may affect the kind of future that they would like to see.

She said, “This interest is starting to have a greater influence on consumer spending and choices, particularly in the more developed economies. Companies are responding with options that can cater to these concerns.”