Pig & Poultry 2009: Welfare still important to consumers in recession

While the downturn means consumers are focusing much more on price, there are still other factors which they consider when selecting products.

Speaking at the recent Pig and Poultry LIVE ’09, James Northen of the Institute of Grocery Distribution, said these included fat content, knowing all the ingredients in the product, convenience and being local.

“One-third of shoppers in a recent IGD survey said they wanted more local produce. Figures show consumers are also buying more on ethics, including welfare.”

Therefore, Mr Northen suggested that consumers needed more evidence on the added-value aspects, such as welfare, on pig and poultry products to warrant the premium. Otherwise they would trade down on price.

This growing consumer interest in welfare was reflected in the viewing figures for the spate of celebrity chef programmes in early 2008, such as Hugh’s Chicken Run and Jamie’s Fowl Dinners. “In that week, there were 10 food related programmes which made it into the top 30 programmes watched that week.

While much of that was negative coverage, there has been success in the past 12 months, with the farming sector getting some good positive media coverage.

“Jamie’s recent Save Our Bacon programme had 2.2m viewers, which is not something to easily dismiss.”

Then there was Jimmy’s Farming Heroes – six hours of prime-time programming championing producers. “Imagine what six hours of prime time would cost.”

Mr Northen believes it is this type of positive coverage that led to nearly 80% of respondents to the IGD survey saying that producers were hard working while only 15% said they were well paid. “This shows consumers believe they are hard working, but don’t earn much.”

But the bad news is that eight out of 10 consumers said their perception of food prices is that it was expensive and 40% believed producers could do more to reduce prices.

“This goes against many views by producers and processors that food has been too cheap for too long. It also means consumers will take some persuasion to shoulder part of the increase in feed prices.”

He concluded by urging pig and poultry producer to use their positive consumer image to convince shoppers to buy British.