A third of UK grocery shoppers prioritise planet over price

Ethical and sustainable issues are driving changes in food shopping. Almost two thirds of Brits (32.2m people) now consider themselves ‘ethical or sustainable grocery shoppers’, and 36% say ethical or sustainable considerations are the most important factor in their shopping.

Research of over 2,000 UK shoppers by natural food company Wessanen UK found that:

  • 44% of Brits say they ‘always’ or ‘often’ look to buy ethically and/or sustainably produced groceries
  • 37% say they have been considering ethical and sustainability issues more often when grocery shopping over the last 12 months
  • 34% say they would be willing to pay more for products which are certified ethical – the same proportion who would pay more for products which use less plastic and packaging
  • Over a third of shoppers (39%) said a price premium for ethical and sustainable groceries of up to 10% was fair
  • 56% of shoppers are using fewer plastic bags and 40% are avoiding single-use plastic compared to a year ago
  • Fairtrade is the most recognised ethical label, with 62% claiming to actively look for this logo when grocery shopping

Key reasons cited for buying sustainable or ethical groceries include being ‘the right thing to do’ (48%) and buying products because they are produced more honestly and fairly (48%).

Despite 60% of Brits self-identifying as ‘ethical or sustainable shoppers’, the research found that price is still a barrier for many, with 76% of respondents overall citing ‘low prices and good value’ as the most important considerations when buying groceries – still more than double the 36% for whom the impact on the planet is the most important factor.

Elderly quietly lead the way on packaging

The findings are confirmed in an industry report from independent shopper research consultancy Shoppercentric, surveying more than 1000 UK shoppers aged 18+ from a nationally represented sample.

Eighty-two percent claim to consider ‘environmentally-friendly’ labelling within their purchase decisions. A further 59% also claim to actively avoid particular types of packaging.

Interestingly those aged over 75 are displaying more environmentally-friendly behaviour than the younger generations. For example, 58% of this group will try to choose products packaged in an environmentally-friendly way against 40% of 18-24s. Additionally, 92% of over-75s would like to see paper bags replace plastic for fresh produce against 71% of 18-24s.

It appears that older shoppers are quietly drawing from their experiences – living in the post-war era of real austerity – in contrast to the more vocal call for change among the younger generation.

Younger shoppers want rewards

A third report by Barclays Corporate Banking says British consumers increasingly expect the goods they buy online to be delivered to their door in an environmentally-friendly way but are unwilling to pay for the additional costs involved.

Not only are shoppers reluctant to pay more for recycling schemes, sustainable packaging and low carbon deliveries, but almost half (46%) said offering rewards was the most effective way of getting them to be ‘greener.’

Surprisingly, most younger people (76%), who are seen as the most engaged on environmental issues, said they would want something in return, such as discounts or vouchers, to change their behaviour and cut down on waste.

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