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Stakeholder Trends and Insights
Food Supply Chain Ethics Increasingly Important to UK Consumers, Studies Find

Two surveys of consumers in the United Kingdom (UK) have highlighted their growing demand for food supply chain ethics.

Research from Globescan showed that the vast majority of shoppers believe that food companies and the government are responsible for ensuring long-term food production sustainability. 92 percent of shoppers put the onus on food companies, indicating they should focus their efforts on securing the future sustainability of food, while 85 percent believed the government should be held accountable.

The survey’s roughly 1,000 respondents identified eradicating child and slave labor, followed by food safety and safe working conditions for producers as the top priorities for government. Nearly two-thirds thought farmers in the UK and in developing countries are underpaid for their produce and 58 percent said they would pay more if they knew producers received fairer prices.

“This research shows very clearly that British consumers expect businesses and government to take action to ensure the fairness and long-term sustainability of food production, both here at home and in developing countries,” said Abbie Curtis, a senior project manager at Globescan.

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UK business and government leaders were asked to take more active roles to deliver long-term food security last year, as well. A report from WWF-UK and the Food Ethics Council highlighted businesses’ limited knowledge of food security challenges and how to respond to them, and offered practical advice to help businesses develop their understanding and take action to reduce risk.

Climate change was considered a significant risk to the food supply chain by 55 percent of respondents, while 74 percent think steps must be taken to ensure sustainable food production for future generations. 53 claimed they would pay more for food products that were produced in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Similarly, a YouGov poll found that nearly two-thirds of UK consumers would be willing to pay more for products that deliver positive social impacts or have environmental credentials. 12 percent would be willing to pay a premium of 25 percent or more, Edie reports.

The YouGov survey of more than 2,000 British adults was commissioned by communications consultancy WE. Interestingly, while 35 percent of respondents said a brand’s sustainability record was “important” or “very important” to them, just 7 percent said they consider such efforts when making a purchasing or investment decision.

“An audience who understands and connects with your brand purpose responds more powerfully than those who see your efforts as unconnected gestures of goodwill,” commented WE vice president Meredith Lynch. “Brands who commit to a purpose at every level - delivering a fairer deal, greater equality or increased opportunities - and demonstrate that both below-the-line and above-the-line are infinitely more likely to see return on that commitment.”

Several big food firms are trying to demonstrate their commitments in the UK and connect with these conscious consumers. Coca-Cola, for instance, has been working with Cranfield University to build a vision for sustainable food and drink manufacturing and launched a £56m operational investment plan earlier this year to act on their research. Meanwhile, several companies including Unilever, Nestlé, Kellogg and PepsiCo participated in a BBC2 documentary series that showcased the inner workings of their UK factories. While the show does not address supply chain ethics or environmental impacts, it does demonstrate the companies’ willingness to increase transparency.

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