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Do consumers want to buy more British-made products?

There’s a growing demand to buy British, but consumers don’t know where to find British-made products, according to new research. Our guest author and founder of campaign group Make it British explains more… 

Between January and April this year, we asked over 1,000 people if they would be willing to pay more for British-made products compared to buying a similar product made outside the UK. The response was staggering.

Just over 90% of shoppers said they would be willing to pay more for British-made goods. This study, the biggest of its kind, shows that there’s a growing desire among Brits to buy locally – fuelled, perhaps, by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Our research revealed that since Brexit, half of all shoppers are trying to buy more British-made products. And that people think products made in the UK are better quality and worth paying more for: 77% said that if they knew a product was made in Britain, they would believe it to be of good quality.

Brand Britannia

British-made stands for quality and shoppers are willing to pay more for a product they can trust. But it’s often impossible for them to find out if a product is made in Britain. It’s often easier with food, where Red Tractor and British meat labeling helps customers understand where a product has come from. But the same isn’t true for other products, such as clothes.

Brands could play a more active role in effectively marketing their products as British. Information needs to be clear, visible and easily accessible, both in store and online. Shoppers have the option to filter online by attributes such as price, brand or colour. Similarly, retailers should give e-commerce consumers the ability to filter for products made in Britain.

UK manufacturers could help themselves, too, by being more visible to consumers. Take Johnstons of Elgin, for example. It is one of the oldest textile manufacturers in the UK and has been making fine woollen cloth, knitwear and accessories in Scotland since 1797.

It has an open-door policy, which means that you can visit its factory to see where your jumper is being knitted. We could do with more UK manufacturers following Johnstons of Elgin’s lead.

Manufacturing is thriving

Many people are unaware that Britain still has a thriving manufacturing base. Last year, for example, over £2 billion worth of textiles was produced in the UK. And through setting up Make it British in 2011, I’ve met countless success stories.

Take Tiffany Rose. This British maternity wear brand was launched by mum-of-two, Tiffany London, in 2003, and has just won the Queen’s Award for International Trade for the second time in five years.

From humble beginnings – a kitchen table in Tiffany’s south London apartment and access to just £600 on a credit card – the business now turns over £3.1m and operates from its head office in Surrey. From here, orders are shipped to 120 countries and over 100 boutiques.

And on 23 and 24 May, our Make It British Live! trade show at the Truman Brewery, London will exclusively showcase over 200 British manufacturers and producers such asTiffany Rose. British producers are thriving – but more can and should be done to support them.

Would you pay more for British made goods (vote in our poll below)? Does ‘made in Britain’ signify quality? And does Brexit encourage you to buy British?

This is a guest article by Kate Hills. All views expressed here are Kate’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?

Would you pay a bit more for a product if it were made in Britain?

Yes (83%, 44 Votes)

No (17%, 9 Votes)

Total Voters: 53

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Comments
Graham 'Jock' Plumley says:
29 April 2018

For a number of years I have championed products made or grown in the UK and will continue to do so, the quality is generally of a very high standard and ethically sound, a price worth paying for.

Companies such as Good Measure, Hiut Denim are the new guard mixed with the old guard such as Baracuta and the wealth of British shoe manufacturers, predominately based around Northamptonshire will receive my supporter whilst they continue to produce great products in the UK.

Steve says:
29 April 2018

I always try to buy British, it’s not always easy but it’s surprising how many British-made products are out there if you look. Which? used to list where products were made and it would be fantastic if they started doing so again.

Agree with you Steve, it would be great if Which? started listing country of origin on products again. Maybe they’ll read this and consider it.

Geoff Stocker says:
29 April 2018

I’m absolutely comfortable with being a British brand and to be known as one. What I don’t want to see is any ‘bulldog spirit’ , jingo-ism slide in alongside that as we get up to and beyond Brexit.
My products are made here but not necessarily by British people. They are made by highly skilled workers from Europe (in the case of my dressing gowns) who live here and who therefore contribute daily to the British economy.

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Well said Geoff. We are supporting ‘made in Britain’ because it has so many benefits to both the economy and to the brands. Brexit worries me as it seems to be bringing out the worst in some people!
It’s also causing highly skilled workers from Europe to seriously reconsider whether they stay here, which would be a terrible loss to many manufacturing sectors in the UK.

Why do you say “Brexit” bringing out the “worst in some people”? And perhaps we should learn the skills required for manufacturing if you believe we will lose European workers.

I believe if we invest in our manufacturing industry and in productive and innovative people we might regain some of the standing we once had. And a better and more balanced economy. Post Brexit we will be much freer to plough our own furrow, if we choose to accept the challenge.

I agree. Jingoism is “my country right or wrong”, and often aligns with intolerance and racism. Patriotism is love of country but, importantly, cognizant of its errors and weaknesses (and thus wanting to address rather than ignore them) as well as the need for tolerance of others, especially those who help us, like the migrants that contribute to our economy.

Poster duncan lucas is correct in pointing to Trump’s USA with respect to jingoism, as Liam Fox will discover, if he hasn’t already.

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I fully agree with most of this. We need to invest more in British industry (as I modestly do) and improve our technical education. All our former polytechnics are now universities, unlike the Germans, with their technical schools. Apprentice schemes, once wickedly exploited by cynical employers, may help, if properly run.

On Brexit, one thing is certain: UK is split down the middle into two unremittingly warring factions – and the first casualty of war is truth. If anyone dares to explain possibilities that are not golden, they are still shouted down with “Project Fear!” by the idealogues. We need honesty and pragmatism – and soon.

I’d also like to see us invest in Britain, but that needs to be sound investment that produces competitive industry and products, not simply propping up failing enterprises or subsidising jobs that are not worthwhile. We need to “create” jobs that make a real contribution to the nation’s wealth.

I don’t agree that there are warring factions over Brexit – except on a minor scale in practice, and where individuals in government use it as an excuse for their personal purposes. Having made the decision I’d prefer to see everyone working to sort out the best solutions to its implementation rather than bickering publicly and giving the EU ammunition to make our life more difficult. But that is unfortunately the nature of politics – self before country..

However, I may be the only one who wants to get the outcome over and done with so we can move on and get stuck in to our new future, investing in useful learning, research, innovation, manufacturing to produce what the rest of the world will want, to make our trade deals pay off. No one owes us a living. .

As a brand that makes that garments in Britain and uses British tweeds and cloths, we are proud to be part of the growing British manufacturing economy.

Liz Wynn says:
29 April 2018

We must buy British to support our homegrown industries

John Robertson says:
29 April 2018

Parliament can help. The Revenue and Customs Act forbids tax offices from releasing information from things like VAT and income tax to say what factories make what products. It’s the kind of information that could help compile trade directories, and make life a lot easier for anyone who wants to buy wholesale or made or grown to order. Once that happens, it should be easier for retailers to sell products made in the UK.

As for reasons: who wouldn’t want to buy something made in a democratic welfare state? It’s likely to be harder to make things here with all the costs, and so there’s less money for snazzyness and advertising. And buying from the country where we live is great – any country – because it keeps a sympathetic home market available to firms that are setting-up or shrinking a bit.

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There’s a directory here. I haven’t looked in detail but there seems to be a lot of initiatives of different kinds. https://www.gov.uk/business-finance-support

I’m all for encouraging business, but we must remember that they all set out to make their owners as much money as possible.

I’d like to see much more low cost or free training/education given to people to become useful in manufacturing- and that in my view starts with designers, engineers and scientists as the future wealth of the UK will depend on them.

What is “made in Britain” really? The rules of origin lay down the % of the value which has been added in any country. With global supply chains, it would IMHO be surprising if most products we buy are 100% sourced from the UK. An easy example to prove this point would be a cotton shirt; we do not grow cotton in the UK

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We may not grow cotton here but we do now spin it here again – English Fine Cottons opened in Manchester last year and are adding significant value to the textiles supply chain 🙂

I presume the cheap labour in China makes this economic. There is an answer – gear up to do it ourselves. But if our labour costs are too high then it is we who are doing ourselves out of jobs, as has happened before.

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Duncan, I don’t think Malcolm is saying that.

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Thanks Derek P, I am saying that for the work involved our labour costs are too high compared to China, say. So it makes economic sense to the business involved That is why much labour intensive work has gone there, and other low-cost economies. It is for us to both use our higher-cost labour to do higher-value work, and for us to find maybe alternative methods of doing certain jobs – robots for example that have also displaced labour in many industries.

It is not for the government to intervene – that’s what has gone wrong in the past.

What’s amazing here is that, even with the shipping costs to and from China, it seems to be more expensive to process and package the fish in the UK.

We’ve had quite a few plugs for “luxury” goods on this conversation. Whilst there’s nowt wrong with that, it would be nice to see more “everyday” items being made here.

For example, I recall that last year, I was very pleased to able to buy a “Walsall Wheelbarrow” from B&Q.

I agree, Derek. Earlier I wrote: ‘If we are to make real progress, effort is needed to encourage the sale of mid-price products that are made in Britain because far more people are likely to buy them.’

I’ve no problem with people wanting to buy luxury British goods but this will not make much impact on the import of cheaper goods.

Yes please to clear labeling of country of produce so we can make a buy British decision even if more expensive. Made in Britain is a brand label, we should make the most of it….

Eyato says:
30 April 2018

[Sorry, your comment has been removed to align with our community guidelines. Please remember that we do not allow promotional content. https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

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Hi Duncan 🙂 Just to let you know, I’ve edited your comment slightly. The original comment you replied to has been removed because it was promotion, which is again our community guidelines. I’ve removed the first line of your comment because it made reference to their brand, and was out of context now that their comment has been removed.

The rest of your comment is still up because the context is still relevant, even without their comment.

Thanks

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Derek and I would be keen to see some British products made in Britain and sold at affordable prices. We manage to achieve this with food but what about clothes and household goods?

Online grocery shopping sites need to be clearer about the origins of their produce. If I want to buy British Lamb, I don’t want to see the online option saying “Produce of UK or New Zealand” and I won’t know which it is until it turns up on my doorstep. I have been badgering Ocado about this for some time. It would be nice to search for British products on their website.

I usually look for the made in UK, especially food. So many chickens say produced in UK or EU. I leave well alone – do I want a chicken produce in eastern Europe with no or little health regulations.
We have enough UK chicken producers so why do supermarkets insist on bring them in from Europe.

I see the rationale, Kit, but our Food Standards Agency advise us not to wash raw chicken because of the extent of contamination by campylobacter. Publicity of the problem has encouraged the industry to make worthwhile improvements but all of our supermarkets and other retailers are still selling chicken (and possibly other poultry) that could make you ill if not cooked properly or juices from uncooked meat contaminate cooked food or salads. With care in the home, the risk is very small but not all restaurants etc are good at keeping uncooked and cooked meat separate.

I don’t buy chicken and strongly prefer to buy other meat from UK sources.

GailH says:
30 April 2018

I would love to see a filter on websites for finding British made products (and clear labelling on goods)! It would save so much time and effort and make people more aware of exactly what they are buying/paying for – many items of clothing made in Asia selling at £100+ has to be a rip off! I’ve always tried to buy British to support British manufacturing and British jobs as well as appreciating the quality of British products (though I can’t usually afford the expense of buying handmade goods). I’ve found some great British manufacturers & products through the “British Products Directory” and “Make it British”, including quality affordable men’s clothing at Joseph Turner!

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Asda were selling UK tomatoes a few months ago as their budget product. They were delicious and tasted as I remember tomatoes from when I was a kid. Trying to persuade others to buy them was futile, (even referendum leave voters????). They simply refused to believe they were tasty. Also, I live near Ellesmere Port, where Vauxhall Astras are made and what do Cheshire Police buy- Peugeots. In fact why aren’t all official vehicles British made? Government and Councils should be leading the way, whether leave or remain voting shouldn’t make a difference to that.

The taste of tomatoes is greatly affected by how they are ripened. Leaving them to ripen properly before picking them is why home-grown tomatoes can be much nicer. I confess to avoiding budget products in supermarkets but other people have sometimes convinced me that they can be very good.

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duncan, if you grow your own you can choose varieties for taste rather than crop size, and pick them while they are warm and fresh – nothing beats that. Just like cucumbers and melons.

3 years ago I planted some forgotten asparagus seed. Wispy stems have appeared for the last couple of years but this year I see some fat spears for the first time. If I get enough we’ll see how they compare with bought ones.

If all who had gardens were persuaded to grow fruit and veg maybe we would need to import much less, and buy British for the remainder.

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Protectionism isn’t for me, I never go out of my way to buy British just because it’s British. What I buy depends on the type of product, eg I will buy the best I can afford when it comes to big purchases I want to be able to rely on (eg my fridge-freezer, stour-souker, oven and hob are all German), or I will buy local fruit and veg if I can (organic veg box with root veg from Lothian), but I also will treat myself to mini-plum tomatoes from Morocco because they’re fair trade and delicious.

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Protectionism leads to complacency and laziness. No reason why we British should not make the standard of product or food we want, and then, at the right price, I’ll buy it. But why enrich some entrepreneur just because they are British?

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I love the ‘stour-souker’ Sophie. I’ve not heard the term but it’s obvious what it means.

A lot of people are mentioning the effect on the British economy, but I would also like to know if anyone buys British because of the effect on the environment?

I would be interested to know what effect I have on the environment when I choose to buy something made in another country. Would this persuade you to buy more British products?

I buy British food wherever possible. It makes no environmental sense to bring tomatoes from the Netherlands, Spain, Morocco and goodness knows where else. If home grown ones are not available I will wait until they are.

With other goods I prefer to avoid goods that are shipped from the other side of the world but if manufacturers make goods in China etc and retailers stock them it becomes difficult for the consumer to be more environmentally responsible.

I support efforts to encourage British companies but it’s high time that we promoted environmental common sense. If Which? product reports were to ask us if we really need a new product before buying I would be much happier.

Ella says:
1 May 2018

I think it would be very helpful if they did add the country of manufacture. I’d definitely prefer to support British manufacturing where possible and as a Which subscriber this would help me in making more informed decisions.

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Buying British is nothing new. It’s a recurring theme over the years.

However Brexit seems to have fuelled the latest version.

We can make it. We need to look out for a Made In Britain label more though.

Post Brexit, I’m sure we’ll be free to choose to follow the kind of isolationist policy that has given North Korea its world renowned high standard of living, with its booming consumer economy, free press and abundant food harvests…

The UK grows less than half the food it consumes/wastes, so by becoming independent we could tackle the obesity problem. 🙁

How we are supposed to manufacture the goods we buy without the natural resources that other countries enjoy and plentiful energy I don’t know. Manufacturing does not make the main contribution to our economy by a very long way. Perhaps it would be better to forget making low value goods such as white goods and focus instead on well designed British high value specialist goods for our own use and for export to boost our economy and our reputation.

We can also also boost our economy by offering high quality education and training to our own people and to those from other countries. I don’t know what university tuition fees are for overseas students but it’s a lot more than UK students pay. At present, EU students pay the same fees as UK students but I assume that this will increase after Brexit.

We can import raw materials, like many countries; better to do that and turn them into decent manufactured goods than to outsource everything. We once led the world in manufacturing even though our main raw material assets were coal and iron.

Our talents are in research, design and innovation and we should support and capitalise on those. That also means investing in the industries, large and small, that use those abilities. I see no point in just educating people for the sake of it – we need to then give those educated youngsters jobs that use those talents in the UK.

White goods a very sophisticated these days and, as some manufacturers demonstrate, sell at quite high prices, so I see no reason not to join these markets. But we start from a low base and it will be an uphill struggle, so we also need to provide incentives for people to invest in industry. We will not survive by just being a country with a service economy, particularly post brexit. We need to make real stuff that people will want to buy.

Importing large amounts of raw materials is as environmentally damaging as importing foods we can grow in the UK, wasteful packaging, bottled water, etc. The costs involved in importing materials immediately put the UK at a competitive disadvantage, which is why I suggest we focus on designing and manufacturing higher value products, where the cost of materials is not such an important factor.

White goods are not really that sophisticated compared with many products, unless you mean those models that come under the ‘internet of things’ class and capable of being connected to phones etc. When I bought a new washing machine it did the same job as one that was 34 years old, but now I have to add extra water for my clothes to be rinsed properly.

When I was young it seemed obvious that everyone should have a career in the same area as their degree, but that’s not necessarily so. Moving into other areas and using the benefits of your knowledge and understanding is a very successful approach and many of those who have left their mark on our advancement have studied completely different degree subjects.

If we are going to succeed, we need to think beyond making washing machines from imported materials and focus on advancing products such as electronics and computing. Why pay help overseas companies profit from sales of phones and all the other gadgets that sell in huge numbers when we could do the design and production in Britain? Or should we carry on paying Apple, Samsung, etc. for products we could design and make in Britain?

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That was my point. But many countries import raw materials – far cheaper and environmentally sound that importing finished products, many of which are largely air.

Why do we not make tvs, computers, phones, white goods, cars, portable tools, and why is it cheaper to buy injection moulded components, pressure diecastings, electric motors from overseas. I suspect part of the reason is that to do these properly requires secure investment that emerging economies get. Subsidy. Just like we are happy to given foreign car companies to set up here..

I see no reason why we cannot make the basics here as well as the more sophisticated products. Give us the tools and we will do the job 🙂 .

I don’t want Britain known as a place where we assemble products that are designed and components made in China and elsewhere. 🙁

If what you suggest was viable we would still be making basic products in the UK. We can’t compete because of the cost of raw materials and energy, complying with health & safety requirements and paying our work force a decent wage.

I do hope that the future for Britain is making decent quality mid to high range products and not cheap everyday tat.

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No one (well, not I) is suggesting we should make cheap everyday tat. Leave that to others. But there is plenty of scope for levels above that. We are good at some of the high end, like aero engines. But the bulk of what we purchase is much more mundane. Health and Safety? That was never a great cost when I worked. Labour – a lot of products involve relatively little, and more mundane and routine work is undertaken by robots – including in the developing economies. Energy – many industries are not energy-intensive. Decent wage? We’ll find the emerging economies suffer from wage inflation.

I do not share your pessimism. European countries successfully make more mundane products.

Manufacturing as a % of GDP:
Germany 23%
Japan 21%
Austria 18%
Italy 16%
Denmark 15%
Belgium 14%
……..
UK 10%
These are hardly economies rich in raw materials, that ignore H&S, that have low labour costs or cheap energy… Time we redressed the balance in our economy and became less reliant on vulnerable services and made stuff we need. and educated our own people to take up more of the productive occupations we should be depending on for a more prosperous future.

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You are very critical of service industries, Duncan. You have told us about your work with BT on numerous occasions and other service work in hospitals. Our service industries are vital and contribute a great deal more to the economy than manufacturing does or is ever likely to.

On the contrary I believe banking – a major service industry – is very vulnerable, particularly at the moment. And services such as the NHS and education depend greatly upon tax revenue, and that is provided by profitable industry in direct taxes, income tax, NI and vat.. We need a better balance than we have now between productive profitable enterprises and those that provide support services. developing innovation and associated industry is, in my view, key to a more secure future.

It is a great pity we turned technical colleges and the like into pseudo-universities to appear to give youngsters qualifications with more status. And at the expense of apprenticeships too. It is the quality of education that matters most, not whether it leads to a degree of progressively lower quality, and if sufficient teachers of decent quality are not there to support them.

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Perhaps you should look at the history of computers to understand that at one point we did lead the world ..
Now work out why we don’t anymore ?

Who do you think ARM are and what they design and build for phones.
Ah yes they got bought by Japanese Softbank at a knock down price when Brexit crashed the pound!

ICL mainframe anyone?

“ICL Mainframe” – yup, brought up on an ICL1900 running Maximop. I had a full 16k of disk space to myself…

Kate, who introduced this discussion, focuses on luxury clothing made in Britain. Fair enough, but what about everyday clothing, which would make much more of an impact on our economy? Are there British brands that we could be supporting?

Exactly – not “advanced products” but stuff everyone wants to buy. Clothing, for many, revolves around good design, not just utility. But it seems fairly labour-intensive. It is hard to see how the low-end products can be made economically in competition with the far east, but the next level up should be. We make decent cloth here, so why not suits? My most recent purchases were made in Israel (hardly a low cost economy) and Hungary. Is Italy a low labour-cost country? Famous for suits. I remember when bespoke suits were the norm from the likes of Hepworths, made in Britain and not overly expensive.

We can certainly produce wool without having to import it and as you say, clothing manufacture is labour-intensive. I don’t know to what extent clothing manufacture is automated but Britain could be at the forefront of achieving this.

I’m happy to pay a premium for reasonable quality clothing made in the UK. I have nothing against Kate and others promoting expensive British designer clothing but it’s not something that interests me.

We apparently exported 38 million kg of wool in 2017 and imported 40 million. I wonder why?

Expensive “designer” goods to my cynical mind means you are often paying more to have a name, and often displayed on a visible label, than for a particularly high quality or useful product. I would not want to criticise anyone on either side of that market as we should be able to dispose of our income as we wish. But I do not see that as mainstream to the British economy. Someone may show me how wrong I am.

I would like to be able to buy a UK tailored suit and shirt, a British designed and made car, a UK designed and built washing machine or vacuum cleaner, but it is up to British manufacturers to gear up to making products that are desirable, whether in quality, durability, value for money (that does not mean cheap), long guarantees – in other words, stuff that is competitive on the broadest sense.

The lead should be taken by our government and they should buy British whenever they can. Why buy crockery from outside the UK for example? https://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/news/stoke-on-trent-news/mp-wants-parliament-buy-british-1197188y

If people want to pay more for expensive designer goods then that’s up to them. As with buying cheap stuff, it seems poor value for money to me. I have a particular dislike for (me) wearing clothing where the manufacturer is identifiable or worse their logo is on the outside rather than on a label inside.

Perhaps there is the opportunity for Britain to make products that are both durable and repairable at a sensible price, but would that be commercially viable for companies that survive by selling products.

It’s not encouraging if our government does not have confidence in British products. Please can you correct the link, Malcolm.

Naomi Smith says:
2 May 2018

More needs to be done by the government to support small companies going against the tide of supermarket domination with cheap products and ‘throw away’ items. Buy once and by quality!

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