3 Supporting effective consumer choices |
23. Consumer choices are not made in a vacuum but
reflect needs and desires shaped by cultural norms and values,
which are in turn influenced by messages from many interested
parties. These include commercial bodies such as producers and
retailers but also public bodies including the Government, local
authorities and the NHS. These messages come in various forms
and via many channels, including marketing and advertising, point-of-sale
information such as labelling and in-store promotion, public information
campaigns and personal contact. Brands also have a key role since
consumer judgments on individual products are often based on their
overall trust and support for a brand.
24. Many people say they are prepared to factor so-called
'public good' considerations into their food purchasing decisions
with, for example, more than half of consumers saying they are
willing to pay more for sustainable and ethical products.
The Sustainable Restaurant Association told us that sustainability
was one factor amongst many considered by consumers when deciding
where to eat out, and that in 2013 key topics of interest to their
patrons had been food waste and health and nutrition.
However, whatever people may say matters to them, their day-to-day
buying decisions frequently do not reflect their stated aspirations.
For example 17% of consumers actively seek out information on
a product's sustainability.
Translating broad aims into a specific choice is an imperfect
art since, quite apart from any constraints over the cost and
availability of products, a consumer will not only typically make
a large number of food purchasing choices each week, but will
also do so from a vast range of options. The bulk of food purchase
decisions are made in stores and typically each product choice
takes a consumer a matter of seconds, with more than a minute
being unusual. This
means that point-of-sale information must be quickly assimilated
if it is to influence decisions.
25. Tesco told us that it tried not to overwhelm
customers with information, flagging up selected key aspects on
labels, such as the catch method for tuna, but providing further
information by other means for those wishing to check other factors
such as provenance.
These included customer service contacts and the company website.
It has also piloted 'nudge' tactics of placing healthy products
near checkout areas to encourage customers to choose healthy products.
However, Tesco called on the Government to ensure consistency
in sustainability labelling to give customers assurance that all
products labelled as sustainable met the same standards. Tesco
supported schemes such as the Red Tractor and Freedom Foods schemes
which people trusted to give appropriate endorsement and confirmation.
The Minister told us that voluntary accreditation had been "very
successful" and could drive consumer behaviour.
The Sustainable Restaurant Association uses a star system to rank
its members, with about 10% of restaurants covered, so as to allow
customers to decide where to eat based on an independent assessment
of an establishment's sustainability.
26. Food critic Jay Rayner argued that consumers
had insufficient information, and considered that it would "require
the involvement of Government" to make businesses be "very
clear and upfront" about the sustainability of their products.
Mr Rayner deemed the "narrative" around sustainability
to be founded on insubstantial metrics. It "venerated the
small-scale and artisanal," and the use of words such as
"local, seasonal and organic" did not stand up to examination
(as indicators of sustainability).
He considered that a product should be labelled with its 'sustainability
rating' both in terms of its own sustainability against similar
products and against other types of product in the basket.
However, this would be complex to achieve. Although some environmental
impacts of some products are measured and reported, there is no
universally agreed metric currently available to assess the overall
environmental impact of a product. Even assessment of a single
factor, such as the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of a productits
'carbon footprint'is not simple. Indeed retailers such
as Tesco have trialled this for a small selection of products
but have not chosen to undertake it in a widespread manner because
of the complexity of the task and the fact that consumers found
the information confusing.
Defra told us it was working with EU counterparts to assess the
potential to require the labelling of products with their environmental
27. Consumers must make a large number of rapid
decisions over myriad purchasing decisions every day, so any information
provided at the point of sale must be clear and easily assimilated.
We recommend that Defra review with retailers the effectiveness
of labelling regulations in informing consumers on key provenance
and sustainability factors. Price and brand are easy signals to
interpret so drive many consumer decisions. We recommend that
Defra seek with retailers to provide equally clear, informative
and accurate signals on provenance, sustainability and nutrition.
28. Further the Department should commission research
into the use of sustainability claims on products in order to
assess the accuracy of such labelling. Defra should promote the
use of accreditation schemes with high levels of quality assurance,
such as Red Tractor, since they allow customers to make choices
of products based on the scheme brand.
29. The growth of internet food shopping allows retailers
to offer online shoppers a wide range of information to explore,
should they wish to do so, before deciding which groceries to
buy. Furthermore the internet offers the opportunity to peruse
information in advance of visiting a store in person. Although
research suggests that consumers only use online information to
a limited extent, principally when undertaking longer-term planning
or looking for inspiration rather than actually clicking through
their order, nonetheless, some 30% of people surveyed by Morrisons
looked online before going to a grocery store.
30. Retailers who go beyond minimum regulatory requirements,
such as those on labelling, in order to provide enhanced information
about the provenance, health and sustainability of their products
are able to better support consumers' choices. Pro-active retailers
are using varied means of improving the information they provide
to customers such as through provision in-store and online of
detailed product information. Online purchasing offers the opportunity
to provide consumers with in-depth information on the health and
sustainability of products in easily accessible form which consumers
can interrogate in varying levels of detail as they wish.
31. We recommend that Defra work with retailers
and their representative bodies to promulgate best practice on
online information provision such as tools to allow customers
to search for the healthiest products when compiling an online
44 "Influencing consumer choice", ENDS report,
November 2014, refers to the 2014 Nielsen survey "Doing well by doing good" Back
Accenture and Havas Media, The consumer study: from marketing to mattering,
June 2014, p9 Back
J Duncanm Herrington, Louis M Capella, Shopper reactions to perceived time pressure,
International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management,
Vol. 23 Issue 12, pp.13-20 Back
"Tesco unveils plans to push healthier options", The
Grocer, October 2013 Back
Qq 116,117 See Red Tractor and Freedom Food webpages Back
Q 11 See also Sustainable Restaurant Association webpages Back
Q118 A carbon footprint will vary according to, for example, type
of production system, efficiency of the farmer and location of
Q183 [Gordon Friend] Back