When it comes to ethical claims made by food and drink companies, new research from Mintel finds that concerns over animal welfare top the list, trumping environmental concerns and concerns over tax avoidance. In a study of 1500 UK consumers, three quarters (74%) say that meat coming from animals which are looked after well is among the top issues that make a food company ethical, followed by a company that guarantees the ingredients used in its products are responsibly sourced (60%) and a company that guarantees good worker welfare (57%).

Falling lower down the list for consumers is a company that guarantees to improve the environment (42%), a company that guarantees to limit its carbon footprint (32%) and a company that guarantees it has not avoided payment of its taxes (30%).

“Ethics is becoming ever more ingrained into food and drink operators’ sourcing policies but it is a complex area which is important to get right.”

While there is an expectation amongst a majority of consumers that food companies should act ethically, with almost three quarters (72%) agreeing they expect food products to meet adequate ethical standards without having to pay more for them, it seems consumers aren’t afraid to boycott brands that do not act ethically. Indeed, half (52%) of consumers say they would stop buying products from a company if they found out it was acting unethically.

Richard Ford, Senior Food Analyst at Mintel, said:

“The fact that animal welfare ranks as the top ethical concern adds credence to the suggestion that Britain is a nation of animal lovers. Ethics is becoming ever more ingrained into food and drink operators’ sourcing policies but it is a complex area which is important to get right. That so many consumers would stop buying from a company acting unethically highlights that operators must ensure their operating standards are not just legally, but also ethically robust, or risk boycotts and reputational damage. Social media means that any accusation of unethical practice can spread fast.”

And it seems there is a feel-good factor when buying ethical food products. Whilst one in four (24%) consumers agree that where they shop for groceries depends on the range of ethical food products available, over two in five (45%) say that buying ethical groceries makes them feel good about themselves.

But Mintel’s research finds that there are some limitations for consumers when it comes to purchasing ethical food products. Half (52%) say they would only pay more for ethical products if they understood clearly where the extra money went and 52% say they find information about which foods are ethical confusing.

“Not only do consumers expect good ethical practices from operators, they also expect to be informed and reassured over why they’re paying extra and where the money is going. Cost remains a key barrier for many buying into ethical food and drink products.” Richard comments.

Finally, Mintel’s research looks at consumer attitudes towards innovative methods of producing food. One in six (17%) consumers say that meat grown from animal cells in a production facility, sometimes known as lab-meat or in-vitro meat, is a good solution to help feed the world. What’s more, 16% say the same of meat or dairy foods sourced from cloned animals and the same proportion (16%) say the same of food grown using processed human waste as fertiliser.

Press review copies of The Ethical Food Consumer UK 2015 report and interviews with Senior Food Analyst, Richard Ford, are available on request from the press office.

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