Can You Eat Ethically And Not Spend A Fortune?

OrganicFruit.jpg Wanting to eat food that's been produced in an ethical manner is a worthy goal, but is it going to get harder in a recession-hit economy? Loaded examines the evidence and looks at why supermarket in-house labels will become more popular.

If you wander into the average supermarket these days, there'll be at least some organic products on display, and plenty of opportunities to purchase products that haven't travelled halfway around the world before you get to eat them. While full-scale "ethical shopping" arguably requires supporting small traders and eschewing packaged good, the trend to look at how food has been produced and where it comes from has had a noticeable impact even in mass-market retailers. Organic foods not only offer the potential to reach to a new customer base and the possibility of healthier eating, but also deliver higher margins to retailers.

But the rush to release organic foods, and to promote the "green" credentials of other brands, may be coming to a halt in the face of economic recession."What wasn't appreciated at the time was that these trends were driven by consumers with a level of affluence which had not been seen before and was unsustainable," Chris Brook-Carter, market analyst with industry watcher, said at a seminar at the international food trade exhibition IFE in London this week.

Brook-Carter argues it isn't yet clear whether shoppers will migrate in large numbers back to cheaper products, while becoming less concerned with their origins, but sales are likely to drop. "The situation for 2009 seems to be wavering. Consumers who have bought into the ethical story are still continuing to purchase those products, though perhaps less frequently. But those who dipped in and out are more likely to trade down."

While the organic aisle might shrink, the recession does spell good news for supermarkets in another area: budget-conscious buyers are more likely to purchase supermarket own-label goods. Echoing a strategy that's been hugely successful in the UK, both Woolworths and Coles have been increasingly promoting their own brands (such as Woolworths Select or Coles Smart Buy) ahead of third-party products. Consumer reaction has been mixed, but economic pressure will accelerate that process. "There are signs that more consumers are switching to the private label sector in brands like cereals," Brook-Carter said. "People are inevitably going to start trading down and it's going to boost private label over the next year."

However, one reason why we might (for instance) keep buying organic pasta while cutting costs in other areas is down to simple psychology. "Buyers are looking to maintain a level of controls over their lives," Brook-Carter said. "Shoppers are more price-sensitive, but they're not relinquishing their ethical concerns entirely."

In truth, the foods you purchase from the supermarket are only part of the equation. Choosing to walk or take public transport when shopping will also reduce the overall carbon footprint you can attribute to the activity (and get you some exercise in the meantime). And minimising the use of packaging — taking your own bags, not buying goods pre-packaged in individual serves, and resisting pre-bagged fruit and vegetables — can also make a difference.

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


    Or you could go to you local produce or farmers' market. In-season organic produce at Victoria market in Melbourne is usually as cheap or cheaper than conventional produce in the supermarket. Choosing seasonal produce is always more economical and usually more ethical (out-of-season produce either requires different farming practices like pesticides, fertilisers or environment modification, or requires transport over long distances)

    A more important question is whether organic food is in fact "ethical" at all.

    Have a look at this page here:

    Yes, it's an American take on the issue but I doubt that it's any different here in Australia.

    One has to ask how organic the supermarket produce actually is. Traditional organics producers are rightly anxious about the entry into the market of large scale industrial producers who can label stuff organic by sticking to the letter of the law or by lobbying to water down the rules of organics. I am thinking about the USA mainly as I have read more about it than about the situation in Australia where I live. In australian Woolworths supermarkets, I see more and more "free range" eggs for sale in fancy egg cartons with lots of claims. I will pay more heed to those claims when I see photographs on the egg cartons actually showing the "free range" of the chicks.

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