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All on the Consumer as Prices Rise

Aug 27, 2008
Consumers worldwide have been feeling the pinch recently. Food prices have risen as the honeymoon period of cheap oil that allowed for the years of overabundant production in the west has ended. No more are the days of milk lakes and corn mountains. The days of food being so cheap that almost a third of everything purchased in the UK is thrown away look similarly numbered, as rising oil prices and unpredictable, poor harvests (themselves the result of climate change) press rates of production down, and the golden age of the Green Revolution slips further and further into memory.

Whilst food prices are rising they still take a far smaller bite out of the average wage packet than they did in the 1970's - around 10% now compared with 20% back then. However, there has been much speculation that increased food prices will drive people away from the organic products that have been rising in popularity in the last few years.

Most supermarkets now carry a wide selection of organic products, from milk to shampoos, but, due to less intensive methods of production, these products are normally more expensive that their non-organic counterparts. Although there has been much speculation about a possible fall in sales of organic products in the face of economic slowdown, sales have continued to rise and the sector, which accounts for about 1.5% of all food purchased in UK supermarkets, is now valued at 980 million a year.

It is uncertain whether consumers will still be willing to pay that extra amount on each weekly shopping basket in a couple of month's time. Should it be the case that the public's acceptance of organic products drops off then this would be a great shame to the environmental movement, as organic products, for example organic milk, result in far lower carbon emissions than their non-organic counterparts.

Whilst an increase in food prices might lead people away from environmentally friendly, organic food purchases, rising costs are leading people toward more ecologically friendly practices in areas outside the supermarket isles. Allotments, where people can grow their own organic food, are in as high a demand as ever, and newspapers and television programmes are now reflecting the growing trend of people getting their hands and knees dirty in order to prepare the food they eat for dinner. In terms of reducing a household's carbon footprint the shift toward economical, home-grown vegetables is great news, as it cuts away the emissions caused by the manufacture of fertilisers and transport of the product.

In addition to food there has been a growing use in services that allow people to advertise their unwanted goods rather than sending them to the landfill or incinerator. In the United States www.throwplace.com allows people to announce their desire to part company with everything from tables to computers. The website gives people the choice to donate to either individuals, businesses, American charities and international charities, and as well as being financially rewarding for the people who gain from the free goods it is also massively beneficial to the environment, as it reduces the amount of perfectly good items being sent to the landfill.

In the UK there is a similar system running through the freecycle network (www.freecycle.org). Here people can advertise both the things they want and the things that they have to give away. Many of the items being offered are the result of people moving house, and the system provides a good way of finding new homes for items that are far too good for the landfill, but not really worth the effort of selling; a perfect synergy between economics and environmentalism.
About the Author
Martin Gavin is a writer for the green comparison website Ecoswitch, the green comparison website
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