COVID Created Boost in Ethical Consumerism Sees Organic and Fairtrade Sales Soar

As concerns over the climate impact on food production and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 crisis continue, sales of organic and Fairtrade certified products continue to shine.

The Soil Association, UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for health, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use, revealed in its Organic Market Report 2021 that the UK’s organic market is now worth £2.79 billion after a 12.6 percent growth in sales in 2020. A similar trajectory can be seen in Fairtrade sales.

Organic Online

Online and home delivery dales fuelled much of the growth in organic products, with sales increasing by 36.2% and one-in-four organic purchases being made via e-commerce.

“With people spending more time at home preparing and planning meals, many shoppers are also appreciating the incredible range of organic options that are available online,” commented Finn Cottle, trade consultant at Soil Association Certification.

E-commerce offers the opportunity for organic businesses to develop innovation approaches and direct-to-consumer models.

Even in New Zealand, where consumers aren’t currently stuck at home in lockdown, Kiwis seek organic products to enjoy at home and when eating or drinking out. This is largely due to the perceived health benefits of organic products as consumers’ focus on health and wellbeing, spurred by the pandemic, continues.

Fairtrade Flourishes

Like organic, the Fairtrade Foundation reported a boom in demand for certified products in 2020, with increased demand for bananas, cocoa, coffee, and wine. UK supermarket, Lidl, for example, saw a tripling in Fairtrade wine sales from 2019.

A mounting recognition of the importance and necessity of Fairtrade is reflected in the Foundation’s latest consumer survey where the number of active choice shoppers choosing Fairtrade products over an alternative is at its highest in Fairtrade history. Again, the expansion of e-commerce is supporting the shift.

“Sustainable grocery shopping has moved from being a niche market into an area of big spend, and is particularly apparent online,” said Fairtrade.

The Ethical Boom

While the growth in e-commerce during 2020 was clearly an important enabler for consumers seeking more ethical options, the COVID crisis also resulted in a time when budgets were squeezed due to the closure of industries and general economic slowdown. So, what prompted so many people to opt for organic and/or Fairtrade items that often sell at a price premium?

The trend appears to be part of a fundamental shift in the relationship people have with the food they eat.

“With more opportunities to think about our choices, and more time spent cooking at home, we are appreciating food more, getting closer to nature, and choosing food that aligns with our personal health priorities,” noted Cottle.

“There is a much greater awareness of the links between food, farming, health and the environment. We’ve also seen a huge appetite for understanding about where food comes from, how it is produced and the wider implications of these choices.”

COVID-19 has accelerated this awareness. According to Nielsen’s Homescan Panel, 50 percent of people agreed that buying organic products was good for sustainability, up from 41 percent before the pandemic. People also associate ‘organic’ with safe and fully traceable food with no genetically modified organisms.

Both the Soil Association and the Fairtrade Foundation are optimistic as the increased demand and availability combine to create a virtuous cycle for ethical foods.

“There has been a step-change in how we shop, eat and think about food, and it’s here to say,” concluded Cottle.