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Consumer survey finds growing food safety concerns

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 03-May-2011

Nearly three quarters (73 percent) of Americans are more concerned now about the food they eat than they were five years ago, according to a Deloitte survey that gives a snapshot of how the public views the US food supply.

Deloitte commissioned an independent research company to gauge the opinion of 1,050 Americans at the beginning of March for its annual Consumer Food and Products Insight Survey.

Among its results, the survey found that interest in the healthiness of foods continues to increase, up five percentage points from 2010, and the number one concern for consumers. However, as several high profile food recalls have hit the headlines in recent years, safety concerns have skyrocketed, with 49 percent of respondents saying that safety of foods and food ingredients is a top concern, compared to 36 percent a year ago.

Communication shift

Although most respondents said communication of product recall information should be the responsibility of manufacturers and the government, at 73 percent and 69 percent respectively, Deloitte said that consumers appear to be shifting toward placing more responsibility on those they trust more and can connect with directly, such as other consumers (27 percent vs. 19 percent last year) and advocacy groups (35 percent vs. 23 percent last year).

“With consumers insisting on more transparency about the safety and origin of their products, companies should take initiative and work closer with consumers to help build advocates of their own,” Deloitte said. “Advocates typically spend more on the products they closely associate with, so, why wouldn’t a company respond to consumers’ concerns, thereby creating greater benefits for all involved?”

Food Safety Modernization Act

The survey also provides one of the first indications of public opinion following the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act into law in January this year.

Despite growing consumer concern about food safety, 68 percent of respondents said they were not familiar at all with the new food safety legislation, and only one quarter (25 percent ) were happy with it, agreeing that the system needed to be updated and the Food Safety Modernization Act addresses that need.

Meanwhile, 17 percent agreed that the system needed to be updated but think that the new legislation does not go far enough or does not address the right issues; 8 percent said that no additional legislation was necessary; and 3 percent said that existing regulations should have been scaled back. Nearly half (47 percent) said they have yet to form an opinion on the legislation.

Private label

The survey also touched on consumer attitudes to private label – or store brand – products. While 58 percent of respondents said they had increased their purchases of private label products during the recession, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) said that in 2011 they were not returning to national brands and intend to continue buying private label products.

Full survey results are available online here .

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