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Over half of public transport users in the UK say they will continue to avoid buses and trains after the pandemic is over in favour of cycling or walking, a study of consumer spending reveals.

The Co-op’s annual ethical consumerism report, which has monitored ethical spending habits for over 20 years, this year singles out public transport as “the biggest loser” of changed spending priorities due to Covid-19, with users reluctant to jump back onto buses and trains because of the threat to their personal space.

In other sectors, the study found that the “stay at or near home” culture which has led to a boom in online shopping and home deliveries is likely to stay, with 58% of shoppers determined to continue to support their local high street.

Overall, ethical spending is forecast to exceed £100bn next year, with 32% of shoppers aiming to buy more plant-based products, 27% to buy more fair-trade products, 52% to reduce single-use plastic consumption and 49% to reduce their energy consumption at home.

The study says the downturn in public transport usage – and unwillingness to return to it – was matched by a spike in interest in cycling. The 51% of people using public transport much less than they did pre-Covid say they will not change this habit. Forty-five percent said they were interested in cycling or walking where possible post-lockdown. However, hybrid and electric cars account for the biggest growth in ethical spending, soaring by 40%.

The annual exercise from the convenience retailer provides in-depth analysis of concerns about the environment, animal welfare, energy consumption and ethically sourced food.

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Back in 1999, the total size of the ethical food market was just £1bn, but the latest figures – adjusted for inflation – show it has mushroomed to £12.5bn. Amid the lockdown baking boom spending on free-range eggs accounts for the biggest surge in spending on food and drink – up 15.2% – while shoppers shelled out 11.4% more on plant-based foods.

Jo Whitfield, the chief executive of Co-op Food, said: “The Co-op has tracked ethical spending for two decades and this barometer shows a remarkable shift. Sustainable shopping has moved from being a niche market to an area of big spend. As growth continues, threats will naturally exist due to the economic impact of the pandemic, but through a challenging environment, opportunities will open up.”

The Co-op was the first UK supermarket to put Fairtrade coffee on its shelves, in May 1992. It is rolling out the Fairtrade sourced ingredient (FSI) mark onto all of its own-brand cocoa products, making it the first UK retailer to source all cocoa in own-brand products on Fairtrade terms.

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