LONDON: Sustainability issues are playing an increasingly important role in shaping purchase habits, although quality and price retain the lead position, new research has found.

Euromonitor, the insights provider, found that quality was a primary motivator for 90.9% of shoppers when making such choices, with price on 86%, ahead of recommendations on 59.6%.

The green credentials of goods and services scored 52.8%, Fairtrade certification logged 50.8% and sustainable production methods hit 50.6%, beating "strong brand name", on 49.1%.

"Despite the recession, issues such as sustainability, health, world poverty, animal welfare and food safety have become increasingly important factors guiding shoppers' purchasing decisions," the study said.

Customers from Brazil, China and India, all of which were urban and relatively affluent, expressed the most interest in environmental and ethical matters, while Japanese consumers were the least engaged.

Gender differences also emerged, as 56% of female respondents rated eco-friendly product attributes as being important, a total falling to 49% for their male counterparts.

When discussing the offerings they would pay a premium for, a 51.6% majority of customers afforded "natural" items this status, versus 48.4% for organic alternatives.

Totals on this measure reached 46.8% for locally sourced goods, and stood at 46% for free range lines and 43.3% when discussing Fairtrade.

Confectionery brands like Cadbury Dairy Milk, Green & Black's and Kit Kat, all in the chocolate sector, and Ben & Jerry's, the ice cream, were all credited with raising awareness of Fairtrade products.

"Shoppers are more interested in the way their food is produced, especially in the face of the negative publicity surrounding modern, efficiency-driven production processes," Euromonitor added. As a result, retailers and manufacturers are quick to use green attributes as a point of differentiation."

But the number of participants that "trusted" product labelling related to these factors varied from 29% for free range to 42% for locally sourced goods, with around half of buyers in each case "neutral" on these claims.

Reasons for doubt included popular confusion concerning the multiplicity of accreditations, the absence of strict regulation and fears about companies making false statements.

Data sourced from Euromonitor; additional content by Warc staff