Responsible sourcing a key concern for majority of UK consumers

12 August 2015

Responsible sourcing and worker welfare are major factors for consumers in determining how ethical food and drink companies are, according to a study.

In a survey of 1,500 UK consumers by Mintel, 60 per cent of respondents said that guaranteeing that ingredients used in its products are responsibly sourced was of major importance, second only to animal welfare, cited by 70 per cent of respondents. Some 57 per cent said guaranteeing good worker welfare was a major concern for those consumers worried about ethical operation of food and drink firms.

However, almost three quarters of respondents said they expected food products to meet adequate ethical standards without having to pay more for them.

Lower down the list of factors that helped to make a company seem ethical were guarantees to improve the environment (42 per cent), guarantees to limit its carbon footprint (32 per cent), and guarantees it has not avoided taxes (30 per cent).

Just over half of consumers surveyed said they would stop buying products from a company if they found out it was acting unethically.

One in four consumers agreed that where they shop for groceries depends on the range of ethical food products available, and more than two in five said that buying ethical groceries made them feel good. But half of those surveyed said they would only pay more for ethical products if they understood clearly where the extra money went, and 52 per cent said they found information about which foods are ethical confusing.

The research also looked at consumer attitudes towards innovative methods of producing food. One in six consumers said that meat grown from animal cells in a production facility, sometimes known as lab-meat or in-vitro meat, was a good solution to help feed the world. Sixteen per cent said the same of meat or dairy foods sourced from cloned animals, and the same proportion said the same of food grown using processed human waste as fertiliser.

Richard Ford, senior food analyst at Mintel, said sourcing policies were a complex area which were important to get right.

“That so many consumers would stop buying from a company acting unethically highlights that operators must ensure their operating standards are not just legally, but also ethically, robust, or risk boycotts and reputational damage,” he said. “Social media means that any accusation of unethical practice can spread fast.”

“Not only do consumers expect good ethical practices from operators, they also expect to be informed and reassured over why they’re paying extra and where the money is going. Cost remains a key barrier for many buying into ethical food and drink products.”

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