22 August, 2014

We place a value on the choice we have to build ethics into our baskets

Are all products created equal?
by Cheryl McGechie, Director of Public Engagement, Fairtrade Foundation

As part of a series of blogs exploring the value consumers place on ethical credentials, the Fairtrade Foundation’s Director of Public Engagement, Cheryl McGechie, kick-starts the discussion by asking how high you put responsibly sourced products on your shopping list… and what’s the value?

When you buy a pack of coffee or a box of tea, you naturally – if fleetingly – consider whether you like the brand, appreciate the variant, think it’s good value. These days, rarity, craftsmanship, quality, natural origin and authenticity are increasingly adding value. Coffee is now marketed more like wine than a hot drink. With so many factors influencing purchase in many product types, is fairness still on the list? Can a better deal for a farmer still push the product over the checkout finishing line?

Not on its own.

Apart from anything else, one product is rarely, if ever, the only fairly traded option on the shelf. And purchase decisions are complex, invariably a mixed bag. 

However, since the 90s ethical shopping has become mainstream – ethics have arrived in the ‘mixed bag’ consideration set of most. According to a survey, 73% would shun products that have not met high ethical standards*. Of course, we're aware that not all people would necessarily do as they say but that’s a lot of positive intention and it’s grown.

On average, 64% of people’s first-choice preference in major import categories* would be Fairtrade labelled, all other things being equal. That’s ahead of uncertified products (previously all that was available) as well as labelled alternatives. 

So an appetite is there. But can you go as far as to put a value on ‘ethics’ or Fairtrade? Will people actually pay more to cover the costs? How much?

In the case of Fairtrade, people tell us they are willing to pay more (though not necessarily much more) – 10% is the typical figure we’ve settled on in our understanding. But there is no unarguable figure – what we can say is it’s certainly not zero. 

From 20 years of selling and researching Fairtrade we know that more ethical products have only come about through consumer and activist demand for something better – brands have changed their sourcing practices and exciting new brands have been born. And that has translated into people valuing those products more and changing their purchasing habits.

It’s no longer just the ‘deep greens’ who consider ethics when choosing an ethical alternative, it’s most of the rest of us too. We place a value on the choice we have to build ethics into our baskets.

* IGD ShopperVista, July 2013

** (bananas, chocolate, coffee, tea and sugar) Fairtrade International Consumer Perceptions Survey 2013, Globescan


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