Is Ethical Shopping Overpowering Charity?

April 06, 2011

Fair Trade and eco-friendly is available across all categories, but how do consumers actually view these products and do they affect other charitable behaviors?

Fair Trade, organic, sustainable and eco-friendly are making their way on to package labels across all categories, but how do consumers actually view these products, and do they affect other charitable behaviors? A study conducted at the University of Bonn, Germany investigated whether the rise in fairtrade, organic, and cause related marketing products is happening in place of charitable donations.  Researchers found that over 25 percent of consumers in Germany put ethical consumption ahead of other forms of charitable behavior.
The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews with nearly 500 participants. Interviews consisted of questions about purchase and consumption habits, knowledge of Fair Trade, donation habits, and attitude regarding charity. After analysis researchers were able to identify five consumer types. They used coffee as the example.
The five identified consumer types:
Type 1, 41 percent are the “price conscious coffee shoppers”  
Type 2, 27 percent, are “the donors” and are very supportive of donations but indifferent to organic
Type 3, 15 percent are interested in “organic production” and rate organic relatively highly, but also emphasize donation and price  
Type 4, 4 percent, “supporters of Fairtrade”
Type 5, 3 percent, “the denier” who dislikes any kind of label
The plurality, 41 percent of the study’s participants value price, which doesn’t surprise The Lempert Report; this number can only be expected to increase as food prices continue to rise. Interestingly, the researchers point out that communicating information on the amount of money reaching the producer is “only relevant for a small part of all consumers,” but “if the absolute amount of money going to producers is indicated on the product, consumers perceive and value this information.” 
This study gives insight into how and where consumers believe their money is being used, and also has implications for package design and marketing of not only Fair Trade, but all eco-friendly products. The study was published in Food Quality and Preference.