Local stays lekker in UK

The UK is one of South Africa’s major export markets, but a new study indicates that, despite pressure on British consumers to support developing countries and conservation, patriotism is primary. Glenneis Erasmus reports.
Issue date 19 October 2007

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Buying British is much more important than buying ethically responsible or supporting developing countries, according to a recent survey of British consumers. Commissioned by the Regional Standards Programme of the and the Policy and Research Division of the British Department for International Development, the survey aimed to identify UK shoppers’ current concerns about buying fresh produce from Africa.

This information would be used to improve developing countries’ market access to the UK. Norma Tregurtha from the ComMark Trust released the results at the recent Allfresh Conference in Cape Town. Shopping factors Quality, freshness, price, value for money and time available to shop were identified as the key factors affecting shopping decisions. Food origin hardly ever came to mind unless buying British was given as an option. Buying British, and if possible from local shops, was seen as ideal, as it would support the local economy. However, many participants only became aware of food origin after purchase, since they didn’t have time to seek out locally produced foods while shopping. High cost was identified as a definite barrier to purchase.

This trend is specifically due to a pro-British, and not an anti-food miles awareness, attitude. “Many participants didn’t recognise the term ‘food miles’ and it had to be explained to them,” Tregurtha said. “Once they understood it, participants’ immediate concern centred around freshness and quality or the need for preservatives rather than transport’s environmental impact. Once participants were informed of the impact, they became more resolute about buying locally.” Most participants understood ethical shopping to be buying Fairtrade – that is, approved by the Fairtrade organisation which guarantees a fair deal for third world producers. Ethical shopping could also include buying free range and considering issues such as animal cruelty. Buying Fairtrade seemed more important to younger audiences but affected some more ethically-aware older respondents.

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Most participants felt buying Fairtrade was an altruistic act with no benefit to them. It was an impulse decision in most cases, but triggers such as media coverage, packaging and “child pester power” also factored. The African charity case T here was also some cynicism about the success of Fairtrade, especially in Africa, where respondents felt corrupt regimes divert resources, producers don’t receive fair wages and labour conditions are bad. “Participants feel a lot has been done for Africa in terms of charity, and why doesn’t it seem to have an impact?” said.

Once they understood the importance of supporting African products participants were more willing to buy from developing countries, but required guarantees they were buying appropriately and really diverting money to those who need it. Even then, they felt buying ethically and supporting developing countries shouldn’t be at the expense of the British economy. Contact Norma Tregurtha at [email protected] or visit www.commark.org. |fw