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The role of involvement in the use of information and labelling in the context of Fairtrade foods

Garcia, Claire (2011) The role of involvement in the use of information and labelling in the context of Fairtrade foods. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94361) (KAR id:94361)


The UK market for fair trade products has grown substantially in recent years but the reasons behind this growth are unclear. The Fair Trade movement claims it is a result of growing consumer ethnocentricity but penetration and purchase frequency of Fairtrade products remains low, whilst the range and distribution of fair trade products has increased significantly and many household brands have added fair trade lines to their portfolios. Understanding how these different factors have affected market growth is critical for the longer term development of the fair trade market. Growing ethnocentricity implies greater involvement in purchasing decisions and an increasingly important role for certification and labelling, as shoppers seek reassurance that the benefits of fair trade products are passed upstream to primary producers. However, if the growth of the Fair Trade market is the result of existing consumers buying more or more often, accidental or inadvertent purchases of (new) fair trade variants of established brands or choice editing by retailers leaving shoppers with no option other than Fairtrade, then the role of fair trade certification and labelling changes substantially and the longer term development of the Fair Trade market relies more on the decisions of food manufacturers and retailers than individual consumers. This thesis addresses this issue by exploring the nature and extent of information search amongst fair trade consumers and the extent to which product and purchase involvement influence the use of information in general and the use of fair trade labelling in particular.

Food is widely categorised as a low involvement category of fast moving consumer goods, for which purchase decisions are considered as simple, habitual and easily comprehensible. However, the growing interest in credence attributes (e.g. food safety, animal welfare, environmental sustainability and ethical purchasing), signals a potential increase in the level of involvement in food purchasing behaviour. The Fairtrade label provides consumers with a guarantee that producers in developing countries are receiving a just price for their produce and promotes poverty alleviation and sustainability. Thus, if more consumers care more about where their food comes from and how it is produced, it is reasonable to assume that food purchasing decisions will become more involved and greater use will be made of information, including certification labelling that mitigates the risks associated with credence attributes, which cannot be experienced directly by the consumer. This thesis explores the mediating role of involvement in the importance attached to and use made of fair trade labelling by fair trade consumers and the potential for fair trade labelling to act as a catalyst for change - raising awareness of ethical purchasing and consequently increasing the level of involvement in food purchasing behaviour - a process that is consistent with the claimed increase in ethical consumerism.

The primary research undertaken provides a methodological contribution to the study of consumer purchasing behaviour, highlighting the importance of multi method and the fundamental limitations of research that relies exclusively on claimed behaviour. A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods are used to determine the precise nature of fair trade purchasing behaviour (what people buy) amongst supermarket shoppers, the drivers of specific product choices (why they buy what they buy) and the role that involvement and fair trade labelling play therein.

The results of the research provide strong counter-evidence to the claims that fair trade consumers are motivated by ethics and that the fair trade label is an important source of information for fair trade consumers. Penetration, frequency and scope of fair trade purchasing behaviour remains limited and largely confined to higher socio-economic groups and whilst awareness of the fair trade label is high, its influence in the food purchasing decision-making process is distinctly limited.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94361
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Divisions: Divisions > Kent Business School - Division > Department of Marketing, Entrepreneurship and International Business
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2023 14:34 UTC
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2023 14:34 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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