The moral maze

13/01/2009 - 00:00
Even during tough economic times ethical purchasing is holding its own –and if foodservice operators want to continue carving out a niche for themselves these products have become increasingly important over the past 10 years. Melissa Cole reports.

In 2008, the year of the crunch, did people still care about what they were buying, how it is grown or produced and how heavy its impact is on the environment? According to the latest Mintel research, 'sustainability' is the third reason consumers would pay a higher price for food, which is good news for the truly massive 'ethical' hot drinks market, which is staying very optimistic. One such positive voice is Simon Kershaw, sector marketing manager at Aimia Foods. "We predict that fair and ethically sourced coffee will continue its market growth, despite the 'credit crunch', as consumers see it as so important. "However the growth will not necessarily be through the Fairtrade brand in particular, but through brands such as Rainforest Alliance. "Other schemes which are currently unfamiliar in the UK such as Utz Kapeh, one of the largest certification programs in the world, are becoming popular in Europe." Fiona Rimmer from Jacksons of Piccadilly believes ethical is still important to those buying hot drinks out of home. "Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in not only what goes into their beverages but now where it comes from. "Over the last few years there has been a substantial growth in the demand for ethical and sustainable products, leading to the UK fairtrade market now being worth an estimated half a billion pounds, and growing at an impressive 153% year on year." Douwe Egberts, which uses the UTZ accreditation, has recently shown confidence in the future of this sector by extending its commitment to the scheme by increasing its use of accredited beans by 30%. In October Costa Coffee announced that it planned to convert its entire coffee supply to sustainably grown coffee beans sourced from Rainforest Alliance certified farms. At least 30% of the beans for Costa's Mocha Italia blend will come from certified sources equal to around 1,200 tonnes of green coffee over the course of a year. On the tea side, Tudor Tea & Coffee offers a 100% pure Rainforest Alliance certified tagged teabag. As Elaine Higginson, managing director of First Choice Coffee states: "The increasing demand for sustainable and ethical coffee is one that is a long term trend and as such is unlikely to significantly diminish as a result of the current economic climate. However, customers will become more discerning about the products they choose to spend their money on." There are some pretty heavyweight figures to back up these assertions, and not just for the hot drinks market. Research by TNS says two-thirds of consumers want to be sure that products are not manufactured using unethical practices, and almost half of consumers see it as important for companies to support social causes. Backing that up, recent research by the Henley Centre confirms a further two clear trends – that the consumer is ethically savvy and that, increasingly, organisations are being held to account and expected to lead the way. But where do we start? Rob McFarlane of Brakes' Prime Meats says you've got to shout about it. "Caterers sourcing and providing accredited products should create a platform whereby they can use these labels as a marketable element to customers. "By displaying these signs on blackboards and menus, caterers have a fantastic opportunity to highlight the quality of food that can set them in good stead with customers that are looking for that premium choice. This will also help to build customer trust and confidence, while giving you a point of differentiation over rivals," he adds. This is an approach that Simon Rilatt, group director of seafood sustainability for Young's Foodservice, says must be taken in conjunction with cost implications. "Costs have become a key focus for everybody and what you've got to bear in mind is that when you first instigate a sustainability policy, it will cost in terms of time and effort, research and marketing, which is a cost operators might not want. "However, businesses are seeing a competitive advantage in man

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