A study by Victoria University indicates that while consumers claim that they are making a switch between fairtrade and non-fair trade brands, a majority will more likely buy non-fair trade products.

Senior lecturer in marketing Maxwell Winchester surveyed 8,000 shoppers finding that shoppers were more likely to buy larger national brands than fairtrade when both were available.

“A majority of consumers will confess to having strong ethical attitudes and practices including boycotting, but the reality of their actual behaviour was shown to be otherwise,” Winchester said. “Consumers are not taking their ethical concerns to the checkout.”

In one example, nearly half the respondents claiming to boycott Nestle products admitted they had actually bought Nestle coffee within their last three coffee purchases.

Winchester said the findings challenged assumptions that ethical brands, because of what they stood for, could achieve more loyalty than would be expected for a normal brand.

“People did not just swap between fair trade brands but between fair trade and non-fair trade, showing there is no excess loyalty to fair trade brands,” he said.

He said the implication is that consumers were choosing a brand rather than its fairtrade status.

“Purchasing of fair trade brands appears to be more a function of brand share rather than a function of ethical beliefs,” he said. “There is no reason why fair trade brands cannot compete with national brands but marketers need to be more realistic as to the reasons why consumers are purchasing fair trade brands.”