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Post-Brexit food safety present ethical opportunities for UK brands

Despite UK MPs rejecting an amendment to ensure food from future trade deals met current EU-level current food safety and animal welfare standards, attitudes around ethics and the environment could provide a lifeline for some British brands following Brexit due to their perceived higher quality. 

With the joint threats of unemployment, recession and high coronavirus debt, brands will have a difficult, yet not impossible task ahead to convince consumers to continue to trade up.

To date, most press discourse around Brexit food safety standards has focused on consumers’ concerns regarding chlorinated chicken, beef hormones and cheap meat from American-style industrial farms. This coverage speaks to consumers’ interest in more ethical and environmental consumption, which has thus far continued unabated during the pandemic. 

Ethical and environmental concerns have had a notable impact on UK FMCG sales and innovation in recent years, and GlobalData suggests these attitudes will remain influential after Brexit as a result of both progressive and conservative tendencies within the country.

Economic hardship relating to the pandemic does not yet seem to have significantly diminished consumers’ interest in local, ethical or sustainably sourced ingredients. 

GlobalData’s most recent consumer survey found that 51% of UK consumers consider sustainable or ethical ingredients as important as before the pandemic, while over a third of consumers (34%) said that it mattered more to them as a result of the pandemic. For UK millennials, the demographic most associated with ethical and sustainable consumption and practices, 45% reported an increase in priority.

It is clear that millennials lead this progressive charge, yet there are notable increases in these attitudes across all generations. This wider trend also overlaps with several claims from the localism trend; local produce can include much lower associated carbon costs, better welfare standards and can be more beneficial to local SMEs.

Localism is expected to be a major post-pandemic trend, which will be easily married with the existing ethical and sustainable trend. The shared experience of the pandemic, uniting against a common threat, with many workers spending more time at home rather than commuting to cities, appears to promote more community-focused sentiment. 

GlobalData found that 44% of average UK consumers reported that locally sourced ingredients are more important to them as a result of the pandemic than before. The increased consumption of local goods and services is likely to follow the pandemic as the twin impacts of Covid-19 and the lockdowns reverberate through the economy in the forms of job losses and business closures.

There will be a renewed focus on ‘buying local to help out’ following the pandemic. Brands and products being framed in this way will appeal to large swathes of the population and will help to distinguish and market local brands from international competitors. It has the potential to appeal to conservative consumers as it provides support for local businesses, and progressive consumers as it provides environmental and ethical benefits.

In June, the bosses of Tesco and Waitrose joined farmers and food campaigners such as the National Farmer’s Union in urging the UK Government to protect food standards prior to the rejection of the amendment. Morrisons claims to only sell fresh meat produced in the UK. Whether this will remain the case following Brexit remains to be seen, but it will present an opportunity for brands that stay the course.