Price trumps ethics for UK shoppers, new EY research reveals

6 January 2018

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Two thirds of British consumers consider themselves to be ethical shoppers - but price is still the most important factor when purchasing a product for 78% of shoppers, a new report from EY today reveals.

Over two-thirds of UK consumers (68%) class ethical behaviour as important when shopping - citing good treatment of employees (79%), ethical supply chains (76%) and treatment of workers and animals (49.8%) as ‘critical’ to their decision-making. In practice, however, ethically sourced produce only comes in the top three purchase considerations for 7% of UK consumers.

With Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation at 3.1% and shoppers facing an extended squeeze on their purchasing power, only half (53%) of UK consumers would be happy to pay more for products which are ethically sourced. Cost is the largest barrier to buying sustainable or ethically sourced produce, with 52% not spending sustainably due to the costs associated with these items, and a further 25% saying they cannot afford these products. Access is also an issue, with 22% stating ethical products are not available locally.

When it comes to sustainable shopping, eggs (56%), meat (48%) and coffee (43%) are the items most frequently purchased from an ethical source, likely due to the availability of free range and Fairtrade items in these categories. Whilst one in three (34%) consumers would not be willing to pay extra for ethically sourced groceries, on average, shoppers are willing to pay up to 10% more for household goods such as eggs (38%), milk (39%) and bananas (37%).

The sourcing of produce also has a domestic factor for UK consumers. 78% of UK shoppers actively seek out homegrown or British-made produce over imported items, and two in five (38%) would be willing to pay up to 10% more for products sourced or manufactured domestically.

Helen Merriott, Partner and Retail & Consumer Products Leader, UK & Ireland at EY, said: “The great British consumer sees themselves as an ethical shopper – and while it’s clear that the will is there to shop ethically, the way is blocked by the higher relative prices of ethical goods. Price and availability are the key barriers to shopping more sustainably – retailers and manufacturers need to think about how they can get more ethical options onto shelves at a price point that’s much closer to ‘normal’ goods.”

Martin Armistead, Associate Partner at EY added: “Today’s consumers have far more choice, and are able to drive more ethical shopping behaviour – particularly within the younger generations, for whom this is an important consideration. To ensure customer loyalty, brands must invest in their ethical credentials to ensure they are well-communicated to consumers and match up with their brand values.”

Research methodology:
A nationally representative sample of 2,500 consumers was asked about the effect brands’ actions have on their shopping habits, and if there was ever a point where value overtook values when shopping for everyday products. The survey was conducted via an anonymous online poll.