Animal welfare seen as important by 84% of shoppers

Wednesday, 29 May 2024

The cost-of-living crisis has meant that consumers have had to change their lifestyle habits to save money (AHDB/Blue Marble, 2023). Despite pressures on household budgets and price, a recent ethics study run by IGD found that 84% of shoppers see animal welfare as an important factor when making purchasing decisions. This was the second ranked most important ethical factor, falling just behind the freshness of the product at 96%.

Cost-of-living behaviours remain

As consumer wallets continue to be squeezed, we’ve seen some consumers trading down to cheaper cuts and proteins, and others are reducing the number of their meals containing meat, instead choosing cheaper, carbohydrate-focused meals, including Italian and Indian dishes to try and save money.

Most important ethical factors to shoppers

Bar charts showing animal welfare is second most important ethical factor behind product freshness

Source: IGD. Health, nutrition and ethics monthly shopper update – January 2024

Consumer perceptions of British production and animal welfare standards

Overall, consumers continue to have a positive perception of British agriculture, particularly older consumers, those who are well informed and those who are more affluent. According to AHDB and Blue Marble’s latest trust research, consumer perceptions of agriculture remain very positive, with over 60% feeling very or somewhat positive towards British agriculture over the last five years.

This positivity towards domestic farming also extends to animal welfare, as just under half of consumers believe dairy cow welfare in Great Britain is amongst the best in the world (AHDB/YouGov Consumer Tracker, Feb 2024). On average, consumers also believe that British meat has higher welfare standards than meat produced overseas (AHDB/Blue Marble, 2023), and have a favourable view that Britain produces food to world-class standards.

Despite this strong sentiment, consumer understanding of welfare is generally only topline, with a lack of understanding of the regulations and specifics. This provides an opportunity to educate consumers on domestic farming practices and welfare standards, which could help further strengthen the reputational foundations of British agriculture.

Industry misconceptions

Consumers are frequently misinformed by pressure groups about British agriculture and production standards. For example, a 2023 AHDB and Blue Marble study found that 45% of people were concerned about the use of artificial hormones in farm animals and 37% were concerned about antibiotics given to animals being harmful to consumers. The use of hormonal growth promotants in meat production has been banned in the European Union since 1989 – and has been incorporated into UK law as part of its withdrawal from the EU.

There is therefore an important role to play in tackling untruths and misinformation spread by other parties. AHDB has played a key role in this, as can be seen by the responses to misleading advertising by Channel 4’s ‘Big British Beef Battle’, Flora, Oatly and Meatless Farm.

How can cost concerns impact ethical factors?

Shoppers cutting back on red meat remains a small proportion of the population, with only 20% claiming to be actively doing so (Source: AHDB/YouGov Feb 2024). However, for consumers cutting back on meat and dairy, cost, health and environmental reasons ranked higher than animal welfare as reasons for reducing intake. For some, high welfare standards are not enough to justify a higher price, with 40% of consumers agreeing that whatever pork is at the best price is the most important consideration (AHDB/YouGov Consumer Tracker, May 2023).

It is also extremely important to justify any price premium that exists for British products, specifically for premium products, when consumers are trying to evaluate quality. Greater communication of the benefits of British production, sustainability and welfare could help boost sales.

AHDB research on the meat shopper journey showed that while most consumers would say they view animal welfare as an important purchasing factor, only a small proportion of them actually consider welfare standards when they are in-store and looking at what to buy. Poor depth of understanding of quality and welfare standards will be playing into this, but price and appearance can easily distract from welfare claims when in store. Consumers do still want to buy British red meat and dairy, as well as premium, high welfare products, but price is currently distracting from and hampering efforts to do so.


  • Animal welfare is important to British consumers and is a vital factor in protecting and promoting the reputation of British farming and British products. It’s therefore vital to communicate and educate on the high production standards, benefits and premium quality of British produce.
  • To communicate reputational topics to consumers, such as animal welfare and the farming story, there’s the opportunity to educate them in store through QR codes on-pack or on surrounding supermarket shelves. Recent AHDB and Blue Marble research shared that consumers would like to feel reassured about the products they buy through being provided information on animal welfare (AHDB/Blue Marble 2023). AHDB’s red meat labelling research showed the role that this can have on in-store purchasing behaviour and in the wider shopping context.
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Tom Price

Retail and Consumer Insight Analyst

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