Organic Insights - Spring 2022
Organic Insights / Spring 2022 / 13
“while some studies suggest ethical consumers are likely to be well- educated, female and affluent, an increasing number of other studies report that few, or no demographic generalisations can be made.” Further reports indicate a greater price elasticity in low-income countries, and that various ethical attributes are prioritised differently by individual consumers and countries. There also appears to be two emergent consumers from the global pandemic, savers and spenders, suggesting that higher income households put money aside not spent on travel and entertainment/going out, and lower income households spent more with government support subsidies – the former having money to spend now. Deloitte reports (not surprisingly) that low-income households typically spend a higher share of their income on food items and will feel the squeeze. With all of these considerations in mind, would we dare to suggest that we might see a plateauing of demand in the short term, that doesn’t impact the long-term upward trend? For a significant consumer audience, ethics will continue to be foremost. FURTHER INFORMATION The Food Ethics Council is an advocacy group and registered charity in the UK, whose charter is to provide independent advice on the ethics of food and farming.
As NASAA Organic’s Chair, TimMarshall, has said, “We are witnessing increased community consciousness and action about climate change, and personal health. The treatment of animals, social equity and fairness are also important in consumer food choices.” “These themes drive more people to seek out the products of sustainable agri-food systems, which should be unquestionably good for organic,” he says. “Unfortunately, we also see too- easy access to information, multiple competing voices, and sometimes misinformation.” Tim highlights the confusion and potential for ‘green-washing’, with consumers being able to “choose between almost 200 sustainability- related certification schemes.” This is an issue also recognised by the UK Food Ethics Council, that suggests a need to refine the number of certification schemes to the most rigorous and well regulated. On these measures, organic certification stands tall. CAN WE AFFORD TO BE ETHICAL IN TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES? How is choice impacted when the cost of living starts to rise? And, what trade-offs exist? There are mixed reports of the current and potential impact of rising inflation on consumer’s ‘ethical’ food choices. According to the RIRDC report (and other sources), ethical food product sales actually increased during the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. Some report that organic loving consumers – especially Gen Zs and millennials - will likely keep buying sustainable food despite higher prices – and point to surveys conducted in the US and abroad that suggest some consumers continue to prioritise susta inable goods.
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Other studies indicate that price and taste come first in purchasing trade-offs. The Consumer Dilemma finds that the cost-of-living crisis is forcing people to “choose between luxuries and survival” and an article in the Guardian UK, urges shoppers to continue to buy Fairtrade products, “amidst fears of a race to the bottom, as struggling Britons look for ways to save money.” Price has always been the biggest obstacle to widespread purchase of sustainable foods, even pre current inflationary times, and an article by Food Navigator explains well, this sustainability vs affordability dilemma. Consumer attitudes have certainly changed, but whether this promotes behaviour is unclear. The 2012 RIRDC report identified that the demographic characteristics of ethical consumers is not straightforward, citing that
if you build up the soil with organic material, the plants will do just fine. John Harrison
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