Food chain to work on gaining consumer trust
health-driven foods with a new survey direct from Brussels
confirming that consumers have faith in fruit and vegetables, while
the majority remain extremely sceptical about meat products and
have 'low trust' in junk food, writes Lindsey Partos.
Faced with meat-linked food safety scares - recently BSE and bird flu - the European consumer is now sceptical about meat products, with nearly one third of consumers believing the price, taste and quality of food, as well as farming methods, nutrition and safety, have deteriorated over time.
These findings from a European research project raise issues about consumer awareness and understanding of food production and clearly show the industry must continue to improve its image if sales are to grow.
"Food production must meet consumers' expectations as well as environmental, health and competitiveness objectives. This requires an ambitious research agenda with strong public-private co-operation at the European level," said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.
But according to the study, the nationality of the consumer may also play a role in his/her vision of the food system.
"Consumer trust in food is high in the UK, Denmark, and Norway, but low in Italy and Portugal and relatively low in Germany," claims the study on the six countries, part of the EU 'Trust in food' project, 2002-2004.
But consumers, irrespective of where they live, have more trust in fruit and vegetables than meat products when it comes to food safety. About one in five consumers trust the quality of burgers from fast food outlets and meals offered in restaurants.
The level of trust in various foods varies markedly. According to the study, based on 8,870 interviews, the most trusting consumers are the British, followed by the Danes and the Norwegians. Italy and Portugal represent the low-trust regions with 60-80 per cent believing that food prices, taste and quality have worsened over the past 20 years. German consumers are also sceptical.
"Pessimism in all countries is associated with trust in individual food items," writes the study.
Similar variations between countries were found when consumers were asked about their trust in various institutional players in the event of a food scare.
Such findings held the underlying message that the food industry must quickly work to improve their 'trusting' image. According to the study a staggering nine out of 10 respondents did not believe that food processors told the truth about food scares.
"Less than 10 per cent of the respondents in all the surveyed countries trusted the food processing industry to tell the truth about a food scare. About 10 per cent trusted supermarket chains and 14 per cent trusted farmers," reports the study.
But this was not the case for consumer organisations, in whom the highest levels of trust were placed, along with food experts and governmental bodies. The ranking of trust in institutional players was practically identical across all six nations.
It is worth noting that British respondents - despite the recent BSE crisis that ravaged the beef industry and with it consumer trust - scored highest on a 'trust in food' index. They were also the most optimistic with regards to the development of food over recent decades. "The high levels of trust in food found in Great Britain should be understood as a positive response to the measures taken in the wake of the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy epidemic and other food scares," suggests the study, prompting the reflection that if the BSE-weakened British beef industry can win back consumer trust, so can the European food industry as a whole.