The Unempowered Consumer.

The Australian Food News newsletter recently reported on research in the UK (by food and grocery experts IGD) that had shown British consumers have little confidence that their shopping choices can make a sustained difference on some of the major social, economic and environmental issues of our day. Of course the UK consumer may be different to the Australian, but I wonder by how much?

Coming from an agency that devotes itself to developing brand strategy driven by insight I couldn’t help wondering what these results say about the brands that are on the supermarket shelves and that are at the heart of how these consumers responded.


When asked what they can positively influence shoppers told IGD:

  • Personal Health 57%
  • British Farmers 41%
  • The local economy 38%
  • The way animals are treated 38%
  • Farmers and workers in poorer nations 26%
  • The environment 23%
  • Sustainable fishing 17%
  • Global warming 11%

Some interesting observations can be derived from these stats:

  1. Its not that 57% of consumers feel that they can influence their personal health but that 43%  felt they couldn’t. The only thing in the world you really have total control over is what you put into your own body, and yet they don’t even feel they can do that. Is there a lack of education on healthy food choices, or is it that the healthier choices can often be more expensive?
  2. Only 1 in 4 people believe they can make a difference to farmers and workers in poorer nations. This despite earlier IGD research that 52% of consumers say the pay and conditions of workers producing their food would be an important factor in their purchase decision.

    Cadbury, Nestle and Kraft have all recently announced  that they will be using Cocoa beans derived from Fairtrade sources in some products and regions, but you’ll have to be eating a bar of Kit Kat in the UK to be making a difference here. Despite the growth of Fairtrade my sense is these examples are still very much the exception when it comes to the big brands, and Fairtrade is more a term you’ll find on smaller niche brands.

  3. Last but not least, the environment and global warming. I suspect after the last 2 weeks in Copenhagen the %’s here might be even lower than the survey recorded. How much more unable to make a difference do we feel after what took place there.  A clear example of the reasons why the consumer feels helpless.

So why does all this frustrate me?

Well, as a consumer, some of the results are just too close to home. They add to my sense that I should be doing more but that I can’t. Equally, from the perspective of a brand specialist, the statistics are quite stunning. The responses are based upon the customers ability, through the brands they choose, to have a positive impact. The overall picture that emerges is of a consumer lost in the supermarket aisles either unsupported, unempowered, poorly informed, or all three.

If this is the case then the major brands either need to start telling people more overtly how they are helping you to make a difference, or start acting more responsibly by actually taking supply chain decisions that have an impact that the consumer can see and feel part of.

This is not just a challenge, it’s a massive opportunity for a brand to present itself to the consumers as the means by which they can make a difference! It’s an opportunity for brands, big and small, to devise a brand strategy that makes their brands voice that of the consumer.

Why not give us a call for a chat about how your brand could better connect with peoples desire to feel they make a difference. Give us a call, we’d love to have a chat

Happy Christmas and best wishes for a prosperous 2010.

Malcolm Harvey,
Brand Champion to the Unempowered

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