Richard Clark of market analyst MrQual Research delves into data it has gathered on the factors that are important to UK shoppers when buying fruit and vegetables
In November 2023, we conducted an online “qualitative” survey with 300 UK grocery shoppers. We asked respondents what factors were important to them when in a supermarket buying fruit or vegetables.
Instead of showing respondents a list of possible factors from which to select their answers, we asked them to write their answers in their own words. Below we outline what they said. We conclude that, if our research is correct, there are far fewer eco-conscious consumers than is widely believed.
Arguably, this would mean that the question about whether or not the eco-conscious market is growing is moot. The size of the market needs to be established first.
Below is a summary of respondents’ answers to our research.
Freshness, quality, appearance and price
Unsurprisingly, the most-mentioned factors were the freshness of the products, and the price. Both of these were mentioned by a little over 60 per cent of respondents. The “quality” of products was mentioned by 31 per cent of respondents and the look or appearance of products by 23 per cent. Reference was made to how long the product looked like it would last (before going off) by 28 per cent.
In addition, several respondents made reference to whether products were damaged or bruised, their condition, look, ripeness or firmness, how they felt or smelt, or whether they were in season. One person was concerned about what chemicals were used to preserve the products.
So, what else did they write? Well, around 8 per cent mentioned packaging. Within this, 2 per cent specifically mentioned that they preferred products with less or no packaging, and 2 per cent mentioned “plastic” packaging. The remaining 4 per cent who mentioned packaging were not specific about it, so some could have been referring to pack size. Either way, with regard to packaging being a factor, 92 per cent did not mention it.
Some 3 per cent of respondents mentioned the word “organic”. One per cent of respondents mentioned carbon footprint, 1 per cent made reference to products having been grown ethically and 1 per cent mentioned sustainability. One person mentioned food miles and another mentioned environmental impact.
Four per cent of the respondents mentioned that a factor was that produce was local, and a further 2 per cent made reference to product being from the UK or Britain. In addition, another 4 per cent of respondents said that the country or place of origin was a factor, though without specifying in what way.
In the outline above we have given the proportion of respondents who did mention certain factors, but we could equally have mentioned how many did not. For example, that 1 per cent did mention carbon footprint means 99 per cent did not. Equally, there are certain possible factors which were not mentioned at all, such as around farmer or grower welfare.
One might argue that some respondents were rushing through the questionnaire, and so did not mention certain relevant factors in their answers. However, we think this unlikely because our survey software prevents respondents from speeding in this way, and also requires them to give an answer of a certain length. There are also other quality control measures that we use.
So, from this research we conclude that the vast majority of UK respondents could not be described as “eco-conscious” when purchasing fruit or vegetables.