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Although the pandemic has hit many consumers’ finances, research by GlobalData shows that a majority of shoppers are still putting local, ethical or sustainably sourced ingredients first.
The consumer survey found that 51% of UK shoppers consider sustainable or ethical ingredients as important as before the pandemic, while over a third of consumers (34%) said that these claims matter more to them now as a result of the pandemic.
Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association Certification agrees that uncertainty around Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have brought our food and farming systems into focus.
“With many of us are thinking more carefully about where our food comes from, 2020 has accelerated changing consumer behaviours towards personal health, transparency and integrity. Shoppers are increasingly prioritising choices that are good for the environment and biodiversity, like organic, and the UK organic market has now reached its highest growth level in over a decade at 9.5%.”
This research comes after MPs earlier this year rejected an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would have forced trade deals to meet UK animal welfare and food safety standards, instead opting for the Trade and Agriculture Commission to vet each trade deal as it comes.
Now, Ryan Whittaker, consumer analyst at GlobalData, argues that following Brexit, UK brands have an opportunity to cater to the consumers who are increasingly looking for local, ethical and sustainable brands.
“The interest in more ethical and environmental consumption continues unabated,” Ryan says. “Ethical and environmental concerns have had a notable impact on UK FMCG sales and innovation in recent years, and our data suggests that these attitudes will remain influential after Brexit as a result of both progressive and conservative tendencies.”
“While millennials lead this progressive charge, we see notable increases in these attitudes across all generations,” he added. In fact, GlobalData also found that 44% of consumers find locally sourced ingredients to be more important to them as a result of the pandemic.
“Local companies that sell to these consumers should be sure to market their local, ethical and environmental credentials after Brexit to remain relevant,” Ryan said.
Nicola Holden, professor in food safety at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), says this inevitably means producers will incur additional costs compared to those with lower standards. If brands and producers are to position themselves as the ethical choice, Mike Hughes, head of research at FMCG Gurus says that they will need to focus on “local suppliers (both in terms of distribution and protection of these small-scale suppliers) and also ensuring that supply chains are as shortened as possible”.
Clare says organic certification is one way to show shoppers that the food and drink in their baskets has been made to the highest environmental and animal welfare standards. “In the UK, any food or drink product sold as ‘organic’ is legally required to meet EU standards and must be certified by an accreditation body, like Soil Association Certification, to ensure that every organisation working up and down its supply chain – from farmers, to packers, to food processors, and organic retailers – meet organic standards.”
“But ultimately, demonstrating that production meets higher levels of quality assurance can be seen as a real benefit to the consumer, and so attract premium status and price,” Nicola says.
Brexit will accelerate the local shopping trend
Indeed, Lumina Intelligence’s weekly measure of shopper and consumer behaviour across UK food and drink channels found that nearly a fifth of consumers plan to buy more British brands after Brexit takes effect on 31st December.
For local, fine food retailers, this trend provides an opportunity to drive footfall and loyalty, says Sarah Coleman, insights and communications director at Lumina Intelligence. “The pandemic has already caused an increase in shoppers supporting local businesses. Brexit is likely to accelerate this trend further.
“Promoting and showcasing provenance will further highlight the credentials of fine food retailers, and help maximise the trend towards shopping for local produce in local stores.”
The impacts of the pandemic and Brexit have shown there is a clear market for ethically, sustainably and locally produced food and drink. Now, it is only a matter of communicating your brand’s provenance and transparency in order to sway today’s discerning customers.