Nearly a quarter (24%) of the 750 US adults surveyed said they would like to see additional information on food labels, compared to 18% when IFIC conducted its last survey about consumer attitudes to food technologies in 2010. Of those who said they wanted more information, extra information on foods’ nutritional composition was the top request, at 36%, followed by 19% who said they wanted to know more about ingredients, and 18% who wanted more information about food safety.
The survey also found that consumer awareness of sustainability issues in the food industry was growing, with a majority (55%) having heard or read about the idea of sustainability in food production, compared to 41% in 2008 and 50% in 2010. More than two-thirds (69%) said that sustainability was important to them, although only one-third said they would be willing to pay more for sustainably produced food.
“Not surprisingly, awareness of sustainability among consumers is high,” said Marianne Smith Edge, IFIC senior vice president of nutrition and food safety. “Consumers expect that the foods they purchase will be produced sustainably. The catch is that we see from survey responses that consumers have many different definitions of sustainability, which can make meeting that expectation a challenge.”
The survey asked respondents to rank different aspects of sustainability in order of importance. Conserving natural habitats topped the list, followed by ensuring a sufficient food supply, reducing the amount of pesticides, ensuring an affordable food supply, and producing more food with less use of natural resources.
Reduced and recyclable packaging is one area that has been a major focus of food manufacturers, but respondents ranked this as much less important than other areas, with about 7-8% ranking packaging issues in their top two sustainability concerns.
The survey found that three-quarters of consumers (74%) had heard or read about food biotechnology, and consumers were more likely to say they would buy foods that contained genetically modified ingredients if they offered specific benefits, such as providing more healthy fats, reduced pesticide use, or reduced saturated fat.
“Certain benefits of biotechnology resonate better with consumers than others,” IFIC said. “These tend to be consumer facing qualities such as improved health or better taste.”
Awareness of nanotechnology was still low, the survey found, and 61% of respondents said they had heard “nothing at all” about nanotechnology in foods.