Shared Earth’s ethical approach offers hope for struggling retail sector
The ailing retail sector was dealt another blow last year as total retail sales fell for the first time in 25 years. Already struggling with high business rates and the growing popularity of online retail, the sector is facing significant decline. One aspect of retail, however, is bucking this trend: ethical products.
According to research conducted by the Co-operative Group in January, the sales of ethical goods and services have quadrupled, bringing them to record highs.
In 1999, when Co-Op first began recording the sales of ethical products, the size of the market was £11.2 billion; in 2019, this figure had rocketed to £41.1 billion.
As consumers pay ever greater attention to the provenance of their products, especially when considering their environmental impact, ethical produce has managed to outperform all other retail areas.
Market size also directly translates to a significant increase in average spend on ethical purchases for each household. In 1999, the average household spend £202 a year; they now spend £1,278.
The difference in performance between ethical products and their alternatives is made stark by figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show that total general household expenditure only rose by two per cent in the same time period.
Shared Earth, one of the UK’s leading suppliers of fair trade, eco-friendly, recycled, remade and ethical products, are a perfect case study to demonstrate this growing trend.
Reeling from the effects of the financial crisis, it was the growing popularity of ethical products which proved to be their saviour. Since 2010, their sales have increased almost every year and for the last six years, their turnover has increased by 25 per cent annually.
As companies are increasingly judged on their social and ethical performance, the ethical retail market has become increasingly fruitful and for Shared Earth, a significant driver for growth.
Explaining the appeal of such products, managing director Jeremy Piercy, writing in The Parliamentary Review, said: “Customers can feel that they’re buying an idea, something that will benefit others as well as themselves.
“The extra sales generated by those who care about this impact provide us with a real edge over normal gift shops. This is reflected in our sales, at a time when retailing has not been easy. We also see this trend in our wholesale sales, with more and more buyers seeing the ethical aspect as a distinct advantage.”
In order to continue to prosper, markets must adapt to changing consumer trends. As the retail sector continues to face significant hardships, and the popularity of ethical produce continues to grow, an alternative path may have emerged.