One third of American shoppers say they are more concerned about food safety and quality today than they were a year ago, and 50% are more concerned than five years ago, according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted in June by Daymon Worldwide’s Custom Shopper Insights team.
Driving these fears is an increase in food borne illness in the U.S. and increased concern about food related chronic disease, Janet Oak, Daymon Worldwide’s head of Global Advisory and Custom Shopper Insights, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We know one in six Americans get sick from food borne illness every year, 12,000 will be hospitalized as a result and 3,000 will die of that,” Oak said. “On the other side … the risk of chronic disease has made people more cautious about what they put in their bodies.”
In particular, the survey revealed they are most concerned about ingredients that might cause cancer, such as pesticides, fertilizers, additives and preservatives, Oak said.
As a result, the survey found “40% of consumers have lost enjoyment of the food they eat due to safety and quality concerns,” and are changing the way they shop, according to Daymon.
To avoid risk, “we are seeing [consumers] are much more conscious of labels and are checking for ingredients,” said Oak. They also are researching foods online more to find out if they are made with pesticides, fertilizers or other processing agents that might not show up on the label, she added.
Consumers also are “actively avoiding stores that carry foods with these harmful ingredients and are driving out of their way to stores that have products without harmful ingredients,” Oak said.
Finally, she said, most consumers are setting aside more money to buy fresh ingredients, which they perceive as safer. However, the survey also found that a third of consumers are willing to accept less healthy ingredients in food and beverage products to save money.
Action items for manufacturers
To ease consumers’ fears, manufacturers should pay more rigorous attention to quality control, especially on imported and international goods that do not have as high of regulatory standards, Oak said.
She also suggested manufacturers create more collaborative opportunities for food scientists and nutritionists to create products that are safe, appetizing and address chronic health condition concerns. She explained currently these two roles often are in different silos from each other, but with emerging interest in functional foods, bringing these positions together could make smart business sense.
Finally, she suggested the food manufacturers work together to create a label literacy program and standards for popular but ambiguous claims, such as local and natural.
She explained even though consumers are reading labels more, many don’t fully understand what they are reading, what daily requirements are and how the nutritional value of foods accumulate throughout the day.
Likewise, she said, standardizing claims is important because many consumers question the credibility of clams that are not certified by outside organizations.
Retailers can provide more education
Retailers also could help clarify consumer confusion about the health of products by developing consistent labeling systems that allow consumers to clearly see desirable and harmful ingredients, Oak said.
This might include creating stand-alone sections in the store of “free-from” foods so that consumers can easily find “everything you need without everything you don’t,” Oak said.
Finally, she suggested retailers more fully train staff to answer consumer questions about ingredients, health benefits and products. They can also develop sections of their website to better education consumers, which also could restore shoppers’ faith in the outlet, she suggested.