A new 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.
Sixty percent of consumers surveyed said they are concerned about the safety of food they purchase, and 63 percent claimed to be knowledgeable about the content of the food they buy.
The survey of 1,000 consumers in the nation's ten largest cities 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
Eighty-three 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 kids 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. Forty-nine percent of those asked said they would be less likely to purchase a food product again if it was recalled due to contamination. Sixty-three percent 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
Sixty-three 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. Seventy-seven 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. Seventy-four percent said they 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. 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," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest. "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."
Are Food Retailers and Manufacturers Looking Out for Me?
Fifty-five 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.
Fifty-seven 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.