Health claims trump ethics with UK consumers

22 February 2011

Thirty percent more UK shoppers look for health claims than ethical ones; ‘Free range’ is twice as looked for as Fairtrade; However, almost 90 percent recognise the Fairtrade logo.

According to food and drink research specialists, MMR Research Worldwide, when UK consumers shop for food, there is a clear hierarchy of appealing product claims. First, they seek products that promise to benefit themselves, then animal welfare and their local area, and then those that address the plights of the rest of the world. As the Fairtrade movement seeks to raise awareness of its efforts to tackle poverty and empower producers in developing countries (Fairtrade Fortnight: 28th February – 13th March, 2011) MMR’s consumer trend-tracking survey reveals that the number of grocery shoppers looking for Fairtrade products fell in January to its lowest level – 17 percent – since the company started asking the question (September 2008).

The research showed that ‘healthy’ is by far the most looked for product claim, by 51 percent of people, followed by ‘low or no fat.’ ‘Free range’ was the most sought after ethical product claim sharing, perhaps surprisingly, third place in the overall ranking alongside ‘low or no saturated fat’, ‘natural, and ‘no or low sugar’. There was some positive news for the Fairtrade brand though: 90 percent of British consumers recognise the Fairtrade logo. However, ranking 23rd (just above ‘added Omega 3’) out of 34 product claims presented, Fairtrade is not a significant purchase driver.

“The food and drink buying behaviour of the British public has been fairly consistent over the past few years in terms of ‘looked for’ product claims,” says Mat Lintern of MMR Research Worldwide. “Consumers look after their own needs first, followed by animal welfare issues and regional concerns such as the need to support local producers. Product claims which address ethical issues facing people in faraway places drive product choice for only a minority of consumers.

“Particularly in times of economic hardship, we believe ethical and provenance claims are simply too far outside shoppers’ personal universe to warrant too much focus for the majority of brands.”

The most “looked for” product claims from UK consumers.


Free range 34%
Recyclable packaging 23%
Locally produced 25%
Animal welfare 22%
Fairtrade 17%
Organic 13%
Sustainable production 11%
Low food miles 9%
Carbon neutral 5%


Healthy 51%
Low / no fat 38%
Low / no saturated fat 34%
Natural 34%
Low / no sugar 34%
Low / no salt 33%
Low calorie 32%
Free from artificial colours and flavours 31%
Wholegrain 30%
Free from artificial preservatives 27%
Less than 5% fat 27%
A good source of vitamins 26%
High in fibre 25%
Low in cholesterol 22%
High in vitamins and minerals 21%
Free from trans fatty acids 19%
High in protein 18%
Added Omega 3 15%
Pesticide free 13%
High in calcium 12%
Helps good bacteria in your gut 11%
Contains antioxidants 10%
Probiotic 9%
Is a superfood 8%

“However, despite the fact that Fairtrade is not a major purchase driver, food and drink manufacturers see the importance of Fairtrade certification for their corporate reputation,” continues Lintern. “In categories such as coffee, tea and increasingly chocolate, it has become a hygiene factor.”

This research is compiled by the MMR Pulse programme, a food and drink trend-tracking information resource. A number of the UK’s major food and drinks manufacturers subscribe to the annual programme which includes bi-monthly quantitative studies of 1,000 UK shoppers.

About MMR Research Worldwide

MMR Research Worldwide is a leading research partner for food, drink and personal care companies with offices in the UK and the USA. With profound expertise in sensory research, product testing, NPD and emotion-based research, MMR Research Worldwide provides innovative, creative and scientifically robust research and is a trusted advisor on all product, brand and packaging strategy decisions. As part of the MMR Group, the company’s clients have access to a variety of unique research assets including Brandphonics® -- a new emotion-based approach to identify what influences consumer choice – an in-house sensory facility and MMR Pulse, a food and drink trend-tracking information resource. The MMR Group is a privately-owned research company employing in excess of 100 people. Founded in 1989 by Professor David Thomson, the Group is headquartered in Oxfordshire, UK and has a rapidly growing business unit in New York, US.

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