Ethically sourced products, such as fair trade, free range and organic, have grown rapidly recently, with the Co-operative bank reporting that the ethical food market topped £4bn for the first time last year.

There have been some notable introductions of fair trade products in particular by wholesalers recently. Booker last month became the first cash and carry to offer an exclusive range of fair trade wines, while Brakes launched an own brand coffee, a first in foodservice.

But what is the broader potential for ethically sourced products in the wholesale channel?

A poll of our reader panel, comprised of key figures in the wholesale industry, said they all offered some ethically sourced products. The most common ethically sourced products they mentioned were fresh organic produce and fair trade coffee.

However, penetration remains very low. None of the panel generated more than 10% of their turnover from ethically sourced products. Most said their companies had numbers well below 5%. Several put this down to the fact that consumers were simply not demanding the products, at least not from the their independent customers.

One exception mentioned by several was coffee, which has had the benefit of a long running consumer awareness campaign backed by the Fairtrade Foundation. A panel member said: “We do well with fair trade coffee, because consumers know about it and want it.”

That said, the panel showed that wholesalers are moving to expand the offer: 71% of them said they plan to increase the number of ethically sourced products that they list, within the next 12 months. This optimism is somewhat limited though, as only 43% of the panel believed there were significant untapped opportunities for ethically sourced products in the wholesale challenge.

Several of those who said there were significant untapped opportunities suggested that the key would be links to local provenance. One member from the south noted: “Consumers do have a strong desire for local products, so if for instance you do organic products in wholesale market, you have to make sure that the end consumer knows that they come from the local area. That does drive sales.”

The questions we asked:

1) Do you currently offer any ethically sourced products?
Yes: 100%
No: 0%

2) Does more than 10% of your turnover come from ethically sourced products?
Yes: 0%
No: 100%

3) Will you list more ethically sourced products in the next 12 months?
Yes: 71%
No: 29%

4) Do you believe that there are significant untapped opportunities for ethically sourced products in the wholesale channel?
Yes: 43%
No: 57%