24 May 2024

Polarisation & Public Support for Food and Drink 

Food is a topic which can be surprisingly emotive. With a general election on the way, we used MHP Group's Polarisation Tracker to measure public views on food and drink policy – with some surprising results. 

Tom Cresswell

This came ahead of an industry roundtable on food and farming policy we held with Daniel Zeichner MP, Shadow Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, on 22 May, where the findings were presented. 

Our research has highlighted some key divides:  

‘Brand Britain’

68% of the British public support businesses that promote British-made products, with Reform voters (94%) most supportive, Conservative voters in second (87%), and Labour supporters closest to the public (66%).  

With general support for home-grown efforts, both main parties have jumped on Brand Britain, with a leak from Labour’s National Policy Forum highlighting the Party’s aim to ensure more home-grown sustainable food is bought, made and sold, through public procurement targets, mandating that 50% of all food purchased by the public sector is locally produced or certified to higher environmental production standards. All seem agreed that we need to grow more of our own food. 

Food ethics

Division is still prevalent in the way food is incorporated into our lives and the effect our consumption has on the environment. 

Illustrating this last weekend was a usually uncontroversial Sunday morning show. 

Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch featured Keir Starmer, a pescatarian, making a tandoori salmon, during which he admitted that he once ate a chicken curry he had accidentally been given.  

At the time of writing, the appearance has been the subject of two Daily Mail articles, one in the Sun, and another in the Guardian, all of which bar one highlights the lapse in his vegetarian judgement.  

So why is everyone so interested in what the Labour Leader is eating? 

Our research has shown that 46% of the public (including flexitarians…) avoid products based on political, ethical, or moral reasons. Amongst those respondents, Conservative voters were less concerned with food ethics (21%); Keir Starmer was amongst 1 in 2 fellow ethical food lovers in Labour (49%); and, unsurprisingly, the Greens led the pack with 82.6% of respondents more likely to consider ethics in purchasing. 

Net zero and food

However, as with net-zero more generally, the picture is mixed. Just 47% of voters support promoting lower carbon food consumption whilst 61% back taxes for high-carbon goods, especially on large companies (84% support).  

Though carbon considerations may not yet be hitting the weekly shop, consumers are clear that if the tax burden does increase on high carbon goods, it should be large producers that bear them. 

However, if other contentions over the race to net-zero are anything to go by, whether you have an avocado in your weekly shop or not may well become a new source of political division. 

Reaching Net Zero 

  • Public Willingness: 66% open to lifestyle changes for Net Zero; 9% strongly oppose.  
  • Political Divide: Labour (79%) more willing than Conservatives (59%) and undecideds (56%).  
  • Interventions: Only 34% back reducing high-carbon food like meat; 36% for banning petrol/diesel cars by 2030; 35% for phasing out gas boilers by 2035.  
  • Lower Carbon Foods: 47% support promoting lower carbon food consumption.  

Sin Taxes 

  • Tax Support: 58% favour higher taxes on unhealthy products; 61% for high-carbon goods; 84% for taxing large companies; 12% for raising VAT.  
  • Political Views: Conservatives (65%) slightly more supportive than Labour (62%).  
  • Income Consistency: Support for ‘sin taxes’ consistent across incomes, with 65% of the richest and 57% of the poorest in agreement. 

Brand Britain 

  • Buying British: 68% support businesses that promote British-made products. 
  • Political Preferences: Reform voters (94%) most supportive; Conservatives (87%), Labour (66%) with SNP voters (29%) likely to avoid. 
  • Union Jack Provenance: Less popular, with 60% approval overall; lower among Asian (32%) and Black (39%) voters. 

Ethical Consumption 

  • Consumer Values: 46% avoid products based on political, ethical, or moral reasons.  
  • Political Impact: Conservative voters less concerned (21%); Labour (49%) and Greens (82.6%) more likely to consider ethics in purchasing.  

MHP Group’s Polarisation Tracker, produced since 2021 with Cambridge University’s Political Psychology Lab, studies the most divisive issues, influencers and identities in Britain. See the latest Polarisation Report here.

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