Words apparently speak louder than actions when it comes to ethical shopping.
Animal welfare, the environment and fair trade are weighing more heavily than ever on consumers' minds, a new IGD survey reveals (see far right). Sixty nine per cent of people say they are interested in products that have been made taking animal welfare into consideration. Nearly half are interested in fairly traded goods and almost a third in organic. And only a fifth of consumers have little or no regard for ethical issues.
Yet, precious little of this intent translates into purchases of ethically produced food and drink. So what's the problem? And what can retailers and manufacturers do to galvanise shoppers into action?
Shoppers can be split into five distinct groups, according to IGD's research (see right). The most dedicated - the ethical evangelists and focused followers - will buy ethically whatever the cost, the conscience casuals aren't interested at all, the blinkered believers only selectively and the aspiring activists, though interested, won't go out of their way to shop ethically.
It is the last of these groups that retailers and manufacturers should be focusing their attentions on, suggests IGD. Aspiring activists tend to be women in a two-person household and in the high-spending AB category, so present an attractive hunting ground for retailers.
"Aspiring activists are the real opportunity, because they are interested in a lot of ethical issues but are not actively buying," says IGD senior consumer analyst Gerardine Padbury.
But first, some significant barriers to purchase need to be overcome.
One is expense. All five groups cite this as an issue, with 52% of those surveyed describing it as a barrier to purchase, up from 51 per cent two years ago, when the survey was first conducted.
Shoppers claim they are prepared to pay a few pence more for ethically sourced goods, demonstrated by the popularity of free-range eggs, for example, but baulk at a difference of several pounds. Some of the high prices charged for organic produce are seen as a rip-off.
"I don't think the price for organic is fair at all," is a typical comment. Another questions the premium typically charged: "Why does it cost a farm more to have chickens running around than having them in a pen?"
Shoppers are more likely to accept a 10 per cent price difference on organic and free-range goods. Overall, however, they are not keen to pay more for ethical goods.
The second most cited reason for not shopping ethically is availability. This is a particular issue with the aspiring activists who have money to spend but say they find it difficult to locate the goods they want.
Several complain that free-range chicken tends to sell out quickly. This is bad news for retailers given that free-range is one of the key areas of interest for shoppers, thanks in no small part to Jamie Oliver's and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's efforts to encourage them to switch to higher welfare birds.
Another issue is growing distrust. While more shoppers feel they are aware of ethical issues, 14% say they don't trust ethical goods, either because they don't believe they are actually produced ethically or because they don't feel the quality is as good. Fourteen per cent cite lack of trust as a barrier to purchase, up from 11% two years ago.
More needs to be done to explain to shoppers where the additional product costs go and how ethical sourcing can enhance product quality, says Padbury. Keeping any price differentials to less than 10% would be another way to encourage shoppers to purchase.
Education is key. Yet at the moment, consumers are more likely to trust documentaries, consumer groups, news programmes, charities and assurance schemes to give them a balanced view on ethical issues than supermarkets, farmers or the government, according to the survey.
While the food industry is seen as more active in leading ethical progress than car manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, clothing producers or finance organisations, more shoppers believe the industry is being forced to react to ethical consumers' concerns (33%) than believe it is leading the debate (20%).
This will have to change, suggests Padbury. "Demand is increasing and shoppers are becoming more educated," she says, citing the fact that they are now looking beyond basic foodstuffs such as meat, dairy and fresh produce to question whether ready-made products contain free-range eggs, for example.
Though consumers will tighten their belts as the economy slows, they won't lose interest in environmental, animal welfare and fair trade issues, believes Padbury. "Food has become a lower percentage of household spend and is likely to be less impacted on than leisure and eating out," she says. "There will still be a place for indulgence or ethical beliefs. People are realising that they have to act on those beliefs."
But they need help and that's where retailers and manufacturers come in. Cost and availability are major barriers to purchase for all five shopper groups, but arguably a bigger barrier still is lack of understanding. More needs to be done to explain why people should shop ethically, and why it carries a premium. Only then will the focused followers broaden their remit, and the aspiring activists - the most important group - back their words with action.nSHopper types
Conscience casuals21% They show little or no interest in ethical shopping
Blinkered believers16% Their concern is focused on a single ethical issue
Aspiring activists21% The most valuable potential market to retailers as they express their interest in many more ethical areas than they currently buy into
Focused followers27% They have made steps into ethical shopping but pick and choose their areas of interest
Ethical evangelists15% They buy across the broad spectrum of ethical issuesWhich of these are you interested in?
Not been tested on animals35%
High standards of animal welfare34%
Minimum of reduced packaging36%
Recycled, recycleable, biodegrable packaging36%
Sustainably managed sources21%
Committed to reducing carbon footprint20%
Not transported by air11%
Fairly traded products48%
None of these16%
What are the Barriers to ethical shopping?
They are too expensive52%
They are not available at my retailer18%
I can't find them on the shelf in store15%
They are not available in the category I want9%
I don't believe that they are produced ethically10%
The quality is not as good5%
I don't know enough about the issue to decide9%
I did not know you could buy them3%
I don't believe there are any barriers17%
It is just not important to me10%
who do you trust to give a balanced view?
Food Standards Agency29%
Assurance schemes and labels22%
Source: IGD consumer unit, 2008