Consumer concern for employee wellbeing impacts perception of food safety, access, research shows

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: © Getty Images PixFly
Source: © Getty Images PixFly

Related tags coronavirus Consumer Brands Association Food safety Supply chain

As news continues to break about more workers at grocery stores and meat and poultry packing plants contracting coronavirus, consumer concern about employee health and their access to food and beverage during the pandemic is on the rise again after a steady decline in recent weeks, according to new shopper research.

Concern about access to food and beverage during the COVID-19 outbreak had been on a steady decline from a peak of more than 75% of consumers the week of March 18, until earlier this month when it increased slightly from 61% during the week of April 22 to 63% in the week of May 6, according to the Consumer Brands Association’s most recent installment of its weekly survey ​of Americans’ perspectives on the pandemic.

CBA’s senior director of industry narrative Katie Denis explained in a blog post on the trade association’s website that the uptick follows news of meat and poultry processing closures and shortage threats, “an issue 76% of respondents were familiar with.”

This mirrors a dip in consumer confidence in producers’ ability to supply sufficient food revealed by a survey ​conducted by the International Food Information Council May 7-12 and released May 20.

According to IFIC’s survey, 73% of consumers are confident that manufacturers can produce enough food to meet consumer needs in the month ahead – down from 77% in April when IFIC fielded a similar survey.

Of the different food categories, concern about access to meat is the highest, according to IFIC. It found 21% of people are concerned about running out of meat versus 19% who feared running out of fresh food and 16% who worry about not having enough healthy food. While access to healthy food is lower on consumers’ list of fears, IFIC noted it more than doubled from 9% in April.

Despite rising concerns about access to meat and other animal products, IFIC found that roughly half of consumers are eating the same amount of most types of protein. Specifically, it found 50% say they are eating the same amount of meat, eggs and dairy and plant-based protein.

Employee safety rises as top concern

While concern about access to food, and meat in particular, has increased since Tyson’s open letter in several newspapers warned of supply chain shortages due to coronavirus-related closures and meat and poultry facilities, more consumers are now concerned about workers’ health.

“This month, the health of grocery store employees (30%) slightly edged out running out of staple, non-food items (29%) and the health of other shoppers (28%) as the top concern about food shopping,”​ according to IFIC’s recent survey results.

Likewise, CBA’s most recent survey found 18% of consumers attributed product shortages to insufficient coronavirus testing to keep manufacturers running and another 18% cited insufficient personal protective equipment for workers.

Even as consumers acknowledge limited access to PPE, 36% report the most important action that grocery store employees can take to improve food safety is to wear masks while working, followed by 28% who cited frequently cleaning surfaces, wearing gloves (21%) and providing disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizers (20%), according to IFIC’s research.

Trust in CPGs climb

At the same time that consumer concern for employee safety is on the rise, so too is their trust in packaged goods – partly because of company efforts to protect employees, CBA found.

“In the last survey, 37% of Americans said their trust in the CPG industry had increased – today, that number has grown to 43%,”​ in large part due to employee safety measures, work to stock shelves, donations and “new recognition of the importance of CPG products in their lives,”​ Denis notes.

This sentiment also is reflected in IFIC’s research, which found more than a third of consumers have a more favorably view packaged food safety since the outbreak began compared to 20% who have a less favorable opinion of packaged food safety.

Overall, while the food industry still has significant hurdles, including managing consumer perception, both IFIC and CBA’s research suggest that American’s are more confident in many the food supply and safety now than at the start of the pandemic.

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