Three quarters (74%) of respondents to the poll said meat coming from well cared for animals was among the top issues that made a food company ethical, with 52% saying they would avoid firms that were unethical.
Ethics mattered to a significant proportion of consumers, making it a priority for retailers and foodservice operators, a spokeswoman for Mintel told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“It follows that food and drink manufacturers who can demonstrate that ethics is already ingrained in their sourcing policies, working practices etc, should be well-placed to appeal to those customers looking for an ethical partner.”
Food businesses that proved they operate ethically could benefit, as 52% of respondents said they would pay more for ethical products if they understood where the extra money went. But 52% also said they found information about which foods are ethical confusing.
Cost is a barrier
Richard Ford, senior food analyst at Mintel, said: “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.”
The second biggest concern for consumers was companies that guaranteed ingredients in products were responsibly sourced, followed by businesses that had good worker welfare.
Mintel ethics poll in numbers
- 72% expected food products to meet ethical standards without costing more
- 52% would pay more for ethical brands
- 52% would boycott unethical brands
- 45% felt good about buying ethical groceries
- 24% said where they shopped depended on the range of ethical products
These proved to be more important to consumers than environmental credentials or tax avoidance among the survey of 1,500 UK consumers.
“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,” Ford said.
“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.”
The rising popularity of social media meant any accusation of unethical practice could spread quickly, Ford added.
One in six (17%) consumers said meat grown from animal cells in a production facility, sometimes known as lab-meat or in-vitro meat, was a good solution to help feed the world.
Respondents were also in favour of meat or dairy from cloned animals or food grown using human waste as fertiliser.
One in three (32%) consumers said that food products from British farmers and producers should be allowed to carry the Fairtrade mark.
Meanwhile, separate research from Stormline found sustainability of fish was the most important influencer on purchasing decisions, after cost and taste.
The origin and capture method of consumers’ fish is important to them too, but in total only 31% of respondents regularly read the label when purchasing fish from a shop.