Engage: Tesco’s charity meals move should prompt brands to tap ethical consumers

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Tesco’s announcement it is to provide the equivalent of 7m meals a year to more than 1,000 charities across the UK could tap into consumers’ growing support for ethical brands and retailers, according to customer insight agency Engage Research.

It says that with growing evidence consumers will spend more with brands and retailers they regard as socially responsible, it is any area both FMCG suppliers and the multiples should use as a way of getting closer to their consumers and understanding what motivates them.

Engage Research director Deborah Sleep cites a recent Nielsen Global Corporate Citizenship Survey which found 46% of global consumers were willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that had programmes in place to give back to society. In terms of demographics, just over half of consumers between 15 and 39 years old said they were willing to pay extra for such items, compared with 37% of those over 40.

“We are not suggesting Tesco is doing this for anything other than altruistic reasons but having a fundamental understanding of consumer attitudes and behaviour is what underpins most successful strategies for both brands and retailers,” said Sleep. 

For brands and retailers to connect most naturally with ethical consumers, they themselves must be authentically ethical.

“Ethics needs to be an inherent part of brand behaviour,” said Sleep. “It can’t be skin deep. A brand can’t major on being green yet have unethical production methods going on in the background. Brands need to live and breathe these ethics to be plausible. For example Tesco’s decision to end multi-buy promotions for large bags of salad and develop mix-and-match offers for small bags with the aim of cutting food waste shows a holistic approach to ethical behaviour.”

A lot of time and money is spent on consumer marketing and activation programmes yet attitudinal research remains an area that is generally under-exploited, added Sleep.

“Brands should recognise the value of investing time beyond factors usually associated with research: becoming fully immersed in consumer attitudes to a whole range of social issues that may affect their brand and their products so that it can be used to develop a clear analytic path going forward.”

Sleep adds that, when seeking consumer insights, brands need to also be aware that what people say isn’t always what they actually do, especially in this kind of area. Brands are advised, therefore, to consider the use of qualitative research to observe consumer behaviour both in the home and in-store to gain a first hand understanding of what products are actually purchased and why.

Tesco will provide the food via the charity FareShare, which now supplies food to more than 1,000 charities across the UK – a 15% increase in just six months. More than 50,000 people a day are being fed through these charities. Tesco will be diverting all surplus fresh food from its distribution centres and online grocery centres to support FareShare.