Is an ethical festive indulgence possible


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Is ethical festive indulgence possible?

With consumers thinking about both indulgence and charity, the festive period could be the ideal time for retailers to be promoting ethical food products


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Is an ethical festive indulgence possible

  1. 1. Published on Ethical Corporation ( ethical festive indulgence possible? Posted by Ben Cooper [1] on Dec 12, 2011With consumers thinking about both indulgence and charity, the festive period could be the idealtime for retailers to be promoting ethical food productsWhat does the festive season mean to you? It’s the sort of question one becomes used to in debatesabout the ever-escalating commercialisation of Christmas and other end-of-year festivals.No strangers to that debate are the supermarket chains that are often accused of fuelling the orgy ofconsumption. However, a time of year associated with both indulgence and charity is arguably anideal opportunity for retailers to emphasise their ethical credentials.So, are consumers looking for more ethical food products at this time of year?Arguably the best place to begin is with the centrepiece of many culinary experiences, the turkey.The concentration of turkey sales in the UK at Christmas – and in the US around Thanksgiving at theend of November – itself exacerbates welfare concerns. Intensive seasonal rearing, sometimes byfarmers inexperienced in keeping turkeys, can result in unacceptable conditions while the practice ofdebeaking has long been a concern of campaigners.However, according to the RSPCA’s animal welfare certification scheme, Freedom Food, sales ofhigher-welfare turkey are increasing steadily. The number of birds in the scheme rose from about 1min 2009 to 1.4m in 2010.Better birdsFreedom Food accounts for 8% of the UK turkey sector but chief executive Leigh Grant says this risesto about 20% at Christmas when sales of whole birds, as distinct from turkey-derived processedfoods, peak.Salmon also has a Christmas spike. According to Grant, Freedom Food now accounts for 59% ofScottish salmon, which “does particularly well at Christmas” because of its quality, premium image.Sales of Freedom Food pork, also on the rise in recent years, are concentrated on primal cuts duringthe year, but at Christmas sales of Freedom Food bacon and hams increase.Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, which representsthe major retailers, says he expects sales of higher-welfare turkeys to “hold up pretty well” in 2011in spite of generally higher prices resulting from increased grain costs.Grant forecasts Freedom Food turkey sales will be on a par with 2010, but expects continued growthin Freedom Food salmon and pork. He says there is now “a lot of interest” in higher-welfare from allthe major retailers because they have found that “it sells products” and provides an opportunity forthem to show their “core values”.Mia Fernyhough, UK food business manager at Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), says there hasbeen “really positive engagement” in the campaigner’s retail liaison work from Waitrose, Marks &Spencer, Sainsbury’s and the Co-operative, and that Asda and Tesco are also “very much involved”.CIWF is also carrying out similar engagement work in other countries and says retailers in marketsincluding France, Italy, Germany and Australia are following the lead set by UK supermarket chains.“We’re definitely seeing the retailers on the continent and in Australia looking to the trends in theUK,” says CIWF spokeswoman Katy Read.
  2. 2. Published on Ethical Corporation ( and salmon are not the only seasonal foods where the ethical sector has become moreprominent. Indeed, one of the primary drivers of the Fairtrade boom has been chocolate.Mike Gidney, deputy executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation, believes consumers see buyingFairtrade products at Christmas as an opportunity to “support companies that are doing the rightthing”.Choccy treats There are numerous other Fairtrade products with particular festive appeal, such as fruits and nuts.In fact, the range of relevant Faitrade offerings is so extensive that ethical trade specialist Traidcraftmarkets Fairtrade hampers, a gift idea also promoted by the Fairtrade Foundation itself.There are some interesting Christmas specialities. For example, the Co-operative markets a FairtradeChristmas pudding, while Fairtrade chocolate brand Divine produces its own chocolate money, anethical and ironic variant on another Christmas staple.The Co-operative has just relaunched and extended its offering of Fairtrade wines, with theChristmas market in mind. The retailer already has a 66% share of the UK Fairtrade wine market.“Sustainably-sourced products, higher-welfare and Fairtrade products are of importance toCo-operative customers and our Christmas range reflects this,” says the Co-op’s Michelle Henderson.Retailer engagement in seasonal ethical products appears particularly advanced in the UK. WhileFairtrade Australia says increasing ethical consumerism is reflected in consumers’ purchasingdecisions over Christmas, with a “jump in sales” during the holiday period. The organisation’sbusiness development officer, Daniel Mackey, says: “So far there has not been a lot of activity on thepart of the larger retailers promoting Fairtrade as part of their Christmas promotions. We hope thatas product availability increases and more consumers indicate their support for Fairtrade-certifiedproducts this will change.”Meanwhile, Fair Trade USA says that while there has been double-digit growth of Fairtrade productsfor the year, it is yet to see “a significant increase” in ethical food and drinks products aroundChristmas. However, some chocolate, coffee, and tea companies have introduced “holiday-specific”offerings.Proxy for premiumNotwithstanding the growth in ethical consumerism in the UK, it is possible consumers are notseeking out ethical alternatives as such, but landing on a more ethical product because they arelooking for something special for Christmas.The hierarchy of motivations is hard to gauge, though Quentin Clark, head of sustainability andethical sourcing at Waitrose, believes consumers may often be trading up for quality reasons. “I’mnot convinced they’re trading up on ethical grounds. At Christmas we want to eat as well as we canafford and want to treat ourselves. That’s probably the bigger motivation, actually.”Opie points out that while sustainability is “a 12-month-a-year thing” for retailers, Christmas is atime when issues such as animal welfare and Fairtrade feature more prominently becauseconsumers perceive such products as offering higher quality.Verdict Research analyst Cliona Lynch believes there is “certainly a charitable element” in thepurchases but that indulgence is the dominant motivation. She adds that knowing “where theproduct has come from” is important to consumers at Christmas.Indeed, Gidney says growing consumer interest in provenance has been a key driver in theexpansion of Fairtrade, and this comes to the fore at Christmas when consumers are looking forsomething special.
  3. 3. Published on Ethical Corporation (, ethical concerns represent “added value” to today’s consumers, Lynch says, which hasparticular relevance at Christmas.The fascinating aspect here – and one that makes ethical products different from other premiumofferings and a Christmas win-win for retailers – is that ethical purchases can satisfy the consumerdemand for premium indulgence while also providing the seasonal salve for the conscience thatmotivates consumers during the festive season.On the other hand, Clark stresses that ethical choices do not necessarily mean premium prices,pointing out that the turkey in Sainsbury’s value Essentials range is an “entry point” product but stillproduced to higher welfare standards.Waitrose artfully looks both ways on pricing, careful to preserve its premium appeal to higherspending customers while also stressing that it can compete with the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’son price with initiatives such as the Essentials range and price matching.However, just as Waitrose seeks to take customers from Tesco and Sainsbury’s by competing onprice, the bigger chains are concerned their shoppers may migrate to M&S or Waitrose in search ofindulgence.Christmas tartsRising “promiscuity” at Christmas is not a reference to the office party season but an allusion to thefact that people are inclined to shop at different places at this time of year, presenting supermarketswith both an opportunity and a risk.Location, a particularly effective Christmas advertising campaign, opening hours or the search forsomething different may all result in consumers departing from their customary shopping behaviour.As ethical considerations now feature in a matrix of consumer motivations, quite possibly coming tothe fore at Christmas, this is an area all the chains need to address.Waitrose, M&S and the Co-operative were early adopters of ethical products and consequently havea strong presence in the sector. Of the larger, mainstream chains, the one that has established thestrongest reputation is Sainsbury’s, which took a strong lead on Fairtrade and is the UK’s largestsupplier of Freedom Food.However, aware that consumers may be tempted to shop at Waitrose or M&S at Christmas, the likesof Asda and Tesco have to act pre-emptively by increasing their offer of premium products. Lynchsays this means the mainstream chains may also take on more ethical and higher-welfare productsat Christmas.While there are clearly enhanced opportunities for ethical products at Christmas, retailers appearstrangely reticent about making too much of this, possibly concerned that it will be seen asopportunistic. This is rather odd. One look at their advertising campaigns provides ample proof thatcapitalising on the Christmas spirit is just about all any of them are thinking about at that time ofyear.There was not much enthusiasm from UK chains Tesco, Asda and Morrisons when Ethical Corporationcontacted them.Morrisons made no comment, and the company barely received a mention from any of the thirdparties, NGOs or charities on the subject.Tesco says the sourcing of more ethical and sustainable products is part of a long-term strategy andis “not something we would approach differently over any season within the year”. Asda was at painsto point out that its commitments were “year-round” and also made no other comment on theenhanced marketability of ethical products at Christmas.Sainsbury’s also appeared to play down the idea of focusing on ethical goods at Christmas, even
  4. 4. Published on Ethical Corporation ( though its leadership in the Fairtrade and Freedom Food sectors clearly puts it in a strong position. Sainsbury’s says it aims “to provide our customers with sustainable, affordable, quality products all year round, and this of course carries through to our Christmas ranges”. It said its Fairtrade confectionery range “sells very well at this time of year”. Mike Barry, head of sustainable business at M&S, says its Plan A eco and ethical programme was “at the heart of how we do business all year round” and that “Christmas is no exception”. It is interesting to note that the retailers generally appear less reticent about publicising charitable activities focused on Christmas, such as M&S’s tie-up with Shelter. In a sense, engaging in such seasonal activity has something in common with stepping up the marketing of ethically sourced foods. It allows consumers to exercise some festive generosity and shows the retailer’s ethical credentials. However, it also offers the added, extremely attractive advantage of enhanced premium sales opportunities. For that reason alone, shoppers can expect ethical products to continue growing in prominence at festive seasons in years to come. [box] The rise and rise of Fairtrade  According to Fairtrade International, global sales of Fairtrade products rose by 27% in 2010 to €4.36bn, the most recent available figures. The UK is the largest market with estimated retail sales of €1.3bn, up 40% on 2009. Principal markets in 2010: Germany €340m (+27%), France €303m (+5%), Switzerland €220m (+12%), Ireland €138m (+16%), the Netherlands €119m (+39%), the US €937m (+5%), and Australia and New Zealand €126m (+258%). A survey of 17,000 consumers carried out for Fairtrade International by GlobeScan in 2011 showed that Fairtrade is the most widely recognised ethical label globally, with 57% of people across 24 countries saying they had seen the Fairtrade mark. In the UK, 50% of consumers said they purchased Fairtrade products at least once a month. Links: [1] by TCPDF (