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Market researcher Mintel has found that as many as 4 in 10 UK shoppers say they are concerned about animal welfare overall - 46 per cent of women and per cent of men. The other big concerns were British origin (a priority for 37 per cent), and food additives (36 per cent), and desire for locally produced foods (35 per cent).
Organic food was said to be important for just 11 per cent of respondents in the new survey.
Mintel says the animal welfare factor has been helped by campaigning by celebrity chefs, such as Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, who have raised awareness of poultry and pork farming practices.
But Kiti Soninen, food and drink analyst, said consumers might not always be willing to seek out food that meets their ideals. She drew parallels between local food, fair trade and animal welfare, saying: "Consumers are in favour of doing the right thing, as long as someone else does the work to make it happen".
The Mintel data follows the results of another survey publicised by the charity Compassion in World Farming last month. Kantar Worldpanel data from the 12 months up to 22 March 2010 showed an increase in sales of free range, barn and organic eggs compared to the previous year – from 62.2 per cent to 66.4 per cent.
Sales of higher welfare fresh chicken meat were also seen to have absorbed more of the growth in the chicken market. They increased 22 per cent in the last year, while standard chicken say only 0.1 per cent year on year growth.
CIWF also put the trend down to the celebrity chef factor.
Steve McIvor, director of food business at the charity said: "The latest figures should encourage major supermarkets and others in the food industry to continue working towards higher welfare standards. There is a great opportunity for both farmers and retailers to make the most of growing consumer demand for higher welfare chicken and eggs – and this is good news for animal welfare too."