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As the pandemic raged in 2020, spending on ethical products sky-rocketed to reach £122bn, according to the Co-op’s Ethical Consumerism Report, which has tracked consumer shopping habits since 1999. In just 10 years, the ‘green pound’ more than doubled.
Ethical credentials are becoming an important consideration for every business – particularly in the food and drink sector. In 2020, spending on ethical food and drink surpassed £14bn, up from just £5bn in 2010. “Shoppers are turning up the heat by boycotting businesses which fail to act on ethical or social concerns,” said Steve Murrells, CEO of The Co-op Group. Indeed, almost £4bn was withheld on ethical grounds, up 18% in 2020. “The report is a warning to brands that they must do business a better way for workers, communities and the planet,” Steve added.
Ethical food shopping trends reflect the changing diets of the British consumer, the report said. Sales in the vegetarian and plant-based alternatives category increased by 34% to reach a value of £1.5bn. Other categories were also boosted: Fairtrade sales grew by 14% and organically certified food rose by 13%. Free range egg sales reached almost £1.5bn in 2020, though sales of sustainable fish fell from £899m to £818m.
The focus on ethical shopping was also reflected in a 6% increase in spend in local shops in 2020, the report said, and the commitment to ‘localism’ is expected to stay.
Promoting your shop’s ethical credentials, be it through your commitment to local suppliers, your focus on sustainable packaging or a specialised interest in organic products, is clearly important for today’s customer. However, it’s equally important that efforts to showcase your shop’s high ethical standards do not come across negatively.
Sergio Restrepo, VP of innovation at Luker Chocolate, says businesses can do this by ensuring they don’t overstate their ethical credentials and focusing on the positives. “You cannot be authentic if you exaggerate the language you use to discuss your ethical credentials. Consumers and peers will see through this immediately. Use clear, concise language to explain what your company does, and why it helps,” Sergio told Speciality Food.
“You won’t connect to consumers by scolding them for their sustainable habits,” he continued. “Your business simply needs to talk about why your product helps and celebrate that, not why you’re better than other brands or why you’re the only brand that has seen the light on sustainability. You are not, and you sound like you are preaching to consumers,” he said.
Brands and retailers can also benefit by using data to back up their claims. “Keep track of what exactly your programmes or initiatives do or save and work into a well-designed report on all the brilliant work you do. For example, Luker have our sustainability report that shows clearly that we have invested more than 1 million USD during 2018-2019 in applied research, technical assistance and education, reaching more than 1,000 farmers who are now better equipped to run their farm as a prosperous business. This can go to media, clients and employees to really show off your ethical credentials with proof to back it up,” Sergio said.
With consumers on high alert for any claims that sound false or misleading, it also pays to be aware of greenwashing. “Increased consumer awareness of environmental issues, stoked by media coverage of the pandemic, offers considerable growth potential for ethical food and drink,” said Alice Baker, senior research analyst at Mintel. “However, widespread consumer doubts over whether their actions make a difference, and uncertainty over what the different certifications stand for, pose considerable barriers to encourage more ethical shopping habits. It’s therefore imperative for companies to give consumers tangible evidence that they can effect positive change through their food and drink choices,” she continued.
To discover more about boosting your shop’s sustainability credentials, read our free report, Sustainability: The Future is In Our Hands.