A little over two weeks ago, IBM released the results of a survey that it had conducted among adult grocery shoppers in the ten largest cities in the United States (100 in each city). The survey was intended to gather opinions about food safety issues, and what it found is as disappointing as it is not surprising. For example, less than 20% of consumers trust food companies to develop and sell food products that are self and healthy. Moreover, 60% of consumers are concerned about the safety of the food that they purchase. And the cause of this significant drop in trust? The rise in food recalls linked to contaminated and unsafe food products. According to the survey results, 83% of the people surveyed were able to name a food product that had been recalled in the last years, with nearly half (46%) naming peanut butter as a recently recalled product.
The irony here is that the rise in contamination-related recalls can be explained, in large part, by the drive for greater profits through: the use of cheaper ingredients purchased from suppliers willing to cut-corners (see, e.g. Peanut Corporation of America and its customer Kelloggs); the failure to update and maintain manufacturing facilities to ensure the highest standards of safety (see, e.g., Cargill and its peanut butter plant); insufficient product testing and quality control (see, e.g. Dole baged Spinach); and over-reliance on the consumer to cook the product "properly" as a means of making it safe, when it should have been safe to begin with (see, e.g., Banquet pot pies and Topps-brand and American Chef’s Selection brand frozen ground beef patties). But by putting profits above safety, food manufacturers are trading short term gains for long term losses. If consumers lose trust in manufactured food products, they will stop buying them. Look, for example, at peanut butter sales, which still have not recovered, and may never do so.
To read the full press release discussing the survey results, please click on Continue Reading.
Armonk, NY — – 24 Jun 2009: A new IBM (NYSE: IBM) study reveals that less than 20 percent of consumers trust food companies to develop and sell food products that are safe and healthy for themselves and their families. The study also shows that 60 percent of consumers are concerned about the safety of food they purchase, and 63 percent are knowledgeable about the content of the food they buy.
The survey of 1,000 consumers in the 10 largest cities nationwide shows that consumers are increasingly wary of the safety of food purchased at grocery stores, and their confidence in – and trust of – food retailers, manufacturers and grocers is declining.
The Debilitating Impact of Recalls
83 percent of respondents were able to name a food product that was recalled in the past two years due to contamination or other safety concerns. Nearly half of survey respondents – 46 percent – named peanut butter, the staple of school lunches for children across the nation, as the most recognizable recall. Spinach came in a distant second, with 15 percent awareness nearly two years after the incident.
Consumers are proving to be extra cautious in purchasing food products after a recall. 49 percent of the respondents would be less likely to purchase a food product again of it was recalled due to contamination. 63 percent of respondents confirmed they would not buy the food until the source of contamination had been found and addressed. Meanwhile, eight percent of respondents said they would never purchase the food again, even after the source of contamination was found and addressed.
These findings underscore how the rise in recalls and contamination has significantly eroded consumer confidence in food and product safety, as well as with the companies that manufacture and distribute these products.
Changing Consumer Behaviors
63 percent of respondents report they have purposefully changed their grocery shopping behavior in the past two years because they wanted better value for their money. And almost half have changed shopping behavior to access fresher foods (45 percent) or better quality foods (43 percent).
"Especially in today’s economy, if consumers are going to pay a little extra for a branded or organic product, they want to be assured that they’re paying for something different and better quality,” said Guy Blissett, Consumer Products Leader, IBM Institute for Business Value. “Across the board, consumers are demanding transparency and more information about the food they purchase to ensure their safety and that of their families. As the government, industry associations, retailers and manufacturers work through the operational issues associated with ensuring food safety, we can each become more aware and take greater responsibility for the food we purchase.”
Where is my Food From?
The survey found that over the past two years, consumer appetite for information about food products increased. 77 percent of consumers want more information about the content of the food products they purchase, and 76 percent would like more information about its origin. 74 percent are willing to dig deeper and seek more data about how the food products are grown, processed and manufactured. Despite industry efforts to keep consumers informed with more detailed product information, there’s still a significant gap between consumer expectations and what retailers/manufacturers are providing.
The survey also found that consumers are spending more time poring over food labels to know which ingredients were used, questioning supermarkets and product manufactures about product detail, paying closer attention to expiration dates, and doing more in depth background checks on specific food brands and their origin. This will have an even bigger impact as the younger, more Internet savvy generation of consumers evolve into being the primary purchasers of groceries.
An estimated 76 million people in the United States get sick every year with food borne illness and 5,000 die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food safety is top of mind for governments, retailers, manufacturers and consumers alike, and in fact, President Obama’s proposed budget includes $1 billion for the FDA to spend on improving food safety. More than 600 bills addressing food safety have been introduced in state legislatures since January 2009.
"The ability to trace a contaminated product all the way back to the source of production is key to modernizing our food industry. It would also allow producers to more precisely identify the source of a problem in order to improve production practices and could help narrow the scope of recalls by more quickly identifying the specific plant or country of origin," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Are Food Retailers and Manufacturers Looking Out for me?
55 percent of respondents trust food manufacturers when handling a recall in the event that a food product is contaminated, indicating a decrease in their level of trust over the past two years. Meanwhile, 72 percent said they trust the store where they buy groceries to properly handle food product contamination recalls.
57 percent of consumers report they’ve stopped purchasing certain foods, even for a short time, within the past two years due to safety considerations.
Take Responsibility: “Smart” Recommendations for Consumers:
Seek out other concerned consumers: connect with those interested in food safety issues. Share information and insights with others.
Make yourself known: Speak up and let your local grocery know you’d be interested in more information on the products they are selling and their origins. Grocers want to listen; they are in a very competitive marketplace. Research from IBM shows 75 percent of consumers are dissatisfied with their grocer.
Ask your retailer: Assess who provides more information about the products they sell. This is being accomplished through in store kiosk and touch screen computers and brochures.
Read the packaging closely: Some products are providing more information than ever, including specific details on the farm where ingredients were grown.
Take responsibility: Leverage the Internet and visit consumer products company websites to learn more about the companies and processes behind the products you buy. Companies are providing a wealth of background information on their products to gain consumer credibility and shift consumer attitude.
IBM conducted a survey of adult grocery shoppers (once a month or more) in the 10 largest U.S. cities during June 2009. The study is intended to gather grocery shoppers’ opinions about food safety issues. The survey was fielded by Survey Sampling International (SSI) using random samples from their managed online panels in: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Forth Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, and Washington, DC. Cities were identified using Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMA). There are 1,000 responses in the final dataset – 100 in each city. IBM was not identified as the sponsor of the study. The results have a 3.1-point margin of error overall (95% confidence level).