The majority of the UK’s food shoppers are overlooking ethical products such as Fairtrade goods in favour of those that offer a direct or tangible benefit to their own lives, a new study has revealed.
Only a minority take into consideration the issues facing farmers and growers in developing countries – just 16 per cent of those surveyed in January said they seek out Fairtrade products when shopping, research from MMR Research Worldwide (MMR) found.
This is the lowest level recorded since MMR first started asking the public this question in 2008, with the economic downturn identified as one reason for the decline.
This finding comes as the Fairtrade movement seeks to raise awareness of its efforts to tackle poverty and empower producers in the Third-World with its annual Fairtrade Fortnight campaign, which this year runs from 24 February to 9 March.
According to MMR, which conducts consumer research for some of Britain’s best-known brands, purchasers of food and drink products are heavily influenced by the claims made by manufacturers on packaging and labelling. First, they look for products that promise to be good for them and their families, followed by concerns such as the need to support local producers.
Mat Lintern, global managing director of MMR Research Worldwide, said: “The British public are tremendously supportive of good causes, but perhaps it is not surprising that when choosing food and drink products they focus their attention on things that directly benefit either themselves or their immediate family.
"Issues that affect our local community – town, region, even country – are next most influential.
“People in distant countries, including Fairtrade farmers, unfortunately fall into the sphere of weakest influence. Looking out for their welfare, particularly in times of economic hardship, comes well down the hierarchy of consumer priorities.”
A plethora of different on-pack claims, both health-related and ethical, bombards the potential buyer. Even so, the average consumer dedicates less than four seconds considering any one product when making a selection from the supermarket shelf.
MMR’s researchers found that ‘healthy’ is the most looked-for product claim, by 40 per cent of people, with ‘low or no fat’, ‘low or no sugar’ and ‘low or no salt’ all sharing second spot at 33 per cent. ‘Free range’ was the most sought after ethical product claim at 27 per cent. Fairtrade was ranked 22nd out of a total of 35 health and ethics related product claims.
In the UK, entire product lines have been switched to Fairtrade, while all major supermarkets now carry ranges of their own-label Fairtrade products.
Lintern said: "While many people are clearly motivated by ethical values, the Fairtrade movement needs to focus attention on raising awareness and building a more compelling picture around the benefits of buying these products. Consumers are bombarded by a plethora of on-pack claims, and Fairtrade needs to work harder to ensure people realise this is effectively a charitable donation where real people see real benefit."
“Recognition of the Fairtrade logo among UK consumers is high but this alone is not enough to cut through the ‘noise’ of competing claims.
"Fairtrade needs to be firmly linked in consumers’ minds with a clear, compelling benefit to the farmers and growers. For many people this connection is too loose, and shoppers need a clearer understanding of how buying Fairtrade products can have a positive impact on the lives of farmers, their families and their communities in developing countries."
He added: “Additionally they want reassurance that their money will filter down to the people who need it and, once there, that it will make a real difference.”