A new study has found that organic and fair trade food tastes subjectively better and offers greater “moral satisfaction’.
The study, carried out at Abertay University, Dundee, has been welcomed by the Soil Association.
The trial saw Dr Boyka Bratanova, of Dundee Business School, analyse the effect that ethical food production has on a consumer’s taste experience.
She and her co-authors found that the moral satisfaction that comes from eating ethically produced food has a measurable impact on the enjoyment of that food’s taste.
The study saw consumers given identical food products to taste and score, but told some of the food was produced ethically and some was not. A key implication of the research is that once a consumer has tried ethical food, the superior taste experience will act as a reward mechanism to continue buying that product, despite its typically higher price.
The findings draw together an analysis of a large-scale survey conducted in eight EU nations, including the UK, and experimental studies conducted at Belgian and British universities with apple juice, biscuits and chocolate to measure the effect of moral satisfaction on expectations of taste and actual taste.
Dr Bratanova said: “There has been a huge, sustained increase in demand for ethical food around the world, and in the UK in particular. If this were just a fad or a fashion you’d expect any increase to be temporary as the fashion passed or the market became saturated. However, quite the opposite has happened. It seems that the demand for ethical food is continuing to grow, which is fantastic news for food producers who specialise in organic farming or high welfare animal rearing.
“What is absolutely central is the consumer must believe that ethical food production is important. If they don’t value the reasons behind fair trade or organic food production then they will not experience the moral satisfaction effect. However, if you are interested in animals being raised humanely or farms being run on organic principles, then it seems you are able to gain even more enjoyment from eating that ethical food.”
Commenting on the results, Martin Sawyer, Chief Executive at Soil Association Certification, said: “We know people buy organic food for a number of reasons and most of these are around the way it’s produced, rather than taste. Fewer pesticides, better animal welfare and better for nature and the environment are cited as some of the top reasons why people choose organic.
“In 2014, nearly one third (29 per cent) of shoppers sought out ethically sourced and environmentally friendly products. In addition to being fully traceable, recent research found that organic crops are higher in a number of key nutrients and antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts. This is one reason why the UK organic market has experienced significant growth in a year when both food prices and food spending fell.”