It’s Fairtrade Fortnight, but with the cost of food increasing and budgets reaching breaking point, can you afford to put ethical food at the top of your shopping list?
We might spend less than our parents did on food as a percentage of our income, but with the continued squeeze on our wallets, price continues to dominate the choices we make about the food we buy.
So I was surprised to read that last year sales of Fairtrade goods increased by 19%, particularly as recent Which? research shows three quarters of us are worried about food prices. Even our supermarket survey reflects this, with ‘discount’ stores Aldi and Lidl making the top three. Why are we still buying ethically?
Of course, buying ethically is not just about Fairtrade. There are many other ethical schemes, and research we carried out in 2010 showed we’re all becoming more aware of them.
Choice is a factor that influences our decisions, as well as quality, and more good quality mainstream products are now available. In the past you had to go to great lengths to hunt down Fairtrade coffee or chocolate, but now Fairtrade products are available in most supermarkets.
The concept of ‘choice editing’ also comes into play. For some products, supermarkets and manufacturers are taking away our choice to buy anything but Fairtrade. Go to your local Sainsbury’s, Waitrose or Co-op and the only bananas available will be Fairtrade.
Of course it’s not just bananas. Over the last few years we’ve seen more products, such as chocolate and sugar, make the switch. The range of Fairtrade food and drink now available is much wider, offering products as diverse as sweets and wine.
Can we afford to buy ethical?
With about four out of five people saying they’ve seen their grocery bill increase over the last year, can we afford to buy ethically? Many people are already struggling to buy the food they need for their families, so the possible extra price premium for Fairtrade or organic might seem a stretch too far.
But equally, can we afford not to? Food prices might seem high now, but if we don’t introduce more sustainable and ethical practices, or even eat more seasonally, we’ll see prices continue to increase. More and more shortages of crops and pressures on food quality will lead to a scarcity of good quality, reliable and affordable food.
So in this economic climate do you buy ethical food products, or do you think they are a luxury?