Buying British

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Following the EU referendum there has been much speculation about the role of British products, including food and whether consumers are more or less likely to feel patriotic when it comes to their purchase behaviour. This article looks at recent research conducted by YouGov which explores consumers’ opinions of buying British, including how Brexit might impact on their shopping. While sentiment is strong, particularly for buying British food, the price of domestic produce compared to overseas alternatives will ultimately determine what products shoppers choose to purchase.

Role of British

Following the EU referendum there has been much debate on the role of British products including food in consumer mind-sets when shopping and whether domestic producers are likely to benefit. Research conducted in March 2017 by YouGov would suggest buying British is very popular among the population, with some 63% of respondents preferring to shop at local businesses while 71% said when shopping, they preferred to buy British food where possible. This is particularly the case for older consumers as 83% of respondents aged 55+ agreed with this statement.

Image showing that 71% of shoppers prefer to buy British

Previous research by IGD suggested British or local produce is perceived as being higher quality and this association was strongest when it came to categories such as fresh produce and fresh meat and fish.

Prices and standards are a concern

However, goodwill alone to buying British will not itself be enough as price remains a key driver of product choice.

Chart showing price, quality, and use by date are the top drivers for red meat purchases

When asked how they managed any cost pressures (i.e. the cost went up) on the British food products consumers regularly bought, 38% said while they would still buy British they would do so less often, while 29% said that they would look for cheaper alternatives. 

Data from Kantar Worldpanel is now showing inflation having returned to the grocery market, the consumer focus on price looks set to intensify. While price and indeed saving money are important considerations, they are not the only driver of choice as value is also an important consideration. While 26% of respondents said British products are more trustworthy only 16% said British food represented better value for money. 

According to the YouGov research, the decision to leave has raised concerns about the impact on domestic food standards for some. Just over a fifth of consumers felt standards would worsen. Not surprisingly, opinion varies depending on how people voted in the referendum with 29% of remain voters feeling they would get worse

Understand the demand

So how much would British food prices need to increase before consumers switched to cheaper alternatives from abroad? YouGov research showed consumers said an increase of up to 10% in price would result in almost one third of respondents saying they would stop buying British.

Chart showing 17% of shoppers would stop buying British if prices rose 10%

As with all research of this type, it is important to recognise there are differences between what consumers say they would do and how they actually behave in store. 

On the face of it the UK’s decision to leave the EU would seemingly have a greater benefit for British food as some 23% of respondents say that they would be more likely to try to purchase British food compared to 17% saying they would more likely to try to purchase British products (excluding food).

That said more than a half said the referendum decision would not impact their shopping choices.
Supporting British farmers was cited by 73% of consumers as the main reason for preferring to buy British products followed closely by supporting the economy, jobs etc at 65% and supporting British manufacturers and companies at 67/69%.

Final thoughts

There is no doubt that the EU referendum vote has polarised opinion towards buying British depending on how you voted, particularly when it comes to the impact on food standards. The YouGov research highlights that some consumers feel these could be lowered after the UK exit and so reassuring shoppers will be key. The findings also suggest that industry needs to focus on promoting the very things that consumers are looking for in British products/food, namely, how it supports domestic farmers, manufacturers and the economy. While sentiment would appear to be positive towards buying British, the key watch out is what consumers say they will do and how they actually behave in store are not always the same thing especially when price is such an important driver of product choice.