Swedes are set to pay top-dollar for a clean, environmentally-friendly conscience this Christmas -- but are not about to change their high-consumption habits, experts say.
"We're seeing that consumers are becoming more and more interested in 'green products', especially for Christmas," Swedish Trade Federation spokeswoman Margareta Ternell told AFP.
AdvertisementA recent study conducted by the trade group indicates that Swedes' overall December splurge this year will hit a record 62 billion kronor (6.6 billion euros, 9.7 billion dollars), with a growing chunk spent on organic and fair trade products.
"We're talking about everything, from what lands on the dinner table, like organic hams, to clothing made from organic cotton. Organic jeans are very popular this year, for instance," Ternell said.
In just the first six months of the year, the trade group saw a 130-percent increase in sales of fair trade products, which guarantee decent pay for producers and aim to enhance social, economic and environmental development in regions where the goods are made.
"All of my Christmas presents will be organic and fair trade this year," said 23-year-old Jamilla Nordquist, thumbing through dresses, jeans and jackets at Stockholm's Ekovaruhuset, or Organic Warehouse.
Some of the cotton and wool clothing, priced around the 1,000-kronor (156-dollar, 106-euro) mark, carry tags with a picture and a message from the person who made them. The jeans claim to represent "pure denim -- pure values -- pure concept -- pure trade -- pure traditions."
At the far end of the store, "Black Spot" sneakers offer buyers a "shareholder certificate" stating that with their purchase they have "embarked on a life charged with social activism."
Johanna Hofring, who owns and runs Ekovaruhuset, said organic and fair trade products were set to be "the Christmas present of the year."
"We've seen a huge increase in sales over the past year, and many people have already been by to look for Christmas presents," she told AFP. Extra stocks of organic wool socks for the holiday rush had already sold out, she said.
"Wool underwear and boxes of organic chocolate are also very popular," she said.
With each of Sweden's nine million inhabitants expected to shop a whopping 6,764 kronor (716 euros) in December there is no indication that their high-consumption habit will be sacrificed on the altar of eco-friendliness.
"If you want to be really environmentally friendly you should buy and consume less and change your habits, but that is something we're not seeing at all. People are buying more than ever before," said Ulrika Holmberg, a researcher at the Gothenburg Research Institute.
Backed by a booming economy and low unemployment, Swedes are expected to shell out about 4.0 billion kronor, or 7.5 percent, more this season than during the same period in 2006.
"As long as the economic situation is this good, people have a lot of money to buy more goods with," Holmberg said.
Martin Erlandsson, the Swedish country manager of champagne and cognac company Moet Hennessy, agreed.
"There has been a long-term economic growth, combined with a long-term growth in the interest for quality, origin and prestige," he said, pointing out that Swedish sales of champagne, as well as of other quality wines, spirits and foods like fine olive oils and chocolates, have sky-rocketed in recent years.
"More and more Swedes are interested in quality and prestige in general, and champagne is the ultimate symbol of this," Erlandsson said.
Such taste for luxury becomes especially apparent during the holiday season, according to Jonas Arnberg of the Swedish Retail Institute.
"Christmas sales will break all records this year," he told AFP, adding that "people are buying more of everything, especially higher-quality and luxury products."
While sales of organic and fair trade products have yet to seriously impact Sweden's sales statistics, the country's strong economic climate has created a huge potential market for green products.
"Most people can afford organic products today. They're buying more expensive stuff," Arnberg said.
Anna Johansson, a 25-year-old customer at Ekovaruhuset, said she was willing to pay more for organic and fair trade labels.
"But there are limits," she said, adding that "I won't buy anything that doesn't look good."
Designer Camilla Norrback, said the secret of the success of her high-priced organic collection in central Stockholm was appealing to people's esthetic sensibilities, not just their consciences.
"You have to do this in a modern way ... A lot of customers come in and want to buy because it's organic, but they always buy with their eye, what looks good," Norrback said, adding that Swedes don't want to look like tree-hugging hippies.
"People pushing the old tie-dyed organic cliche won't last," she said.
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