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New quality claims edging out 'standard' organic and free-range

By Jess Halliday , 28-Oct-2009

Newer food quality and ethical claims on foods are grabbing consumers’ attention away from more established claims like ‘organic’ and ‘free range’, says a new survey – but safety claims still come out top.

A plethora of new marketing claims are appearing on food and beverage products, covering aspects including origin, absence of attributes like antibiotics, hormones or certain chemicals, and welfare and trading standards.

For its new survey Context Marketing surveyed the views of 600 respondents between the ages of 20 and 64 online. The research was angled towards more educated and affluent consumers, but was evenly balanced between men and women and the major metropolitan areas of the US.

The researchers noted that there is a shift away from more traditional terms like organic and free-range. Just 35 per cent of respondents said ‘organic’ was either very important or important; and 35 per cent said free-range was very important or important.

The top three claims, however, were ‘low-mercury seafood’, ‘no pesticides’ and ‘no artificial hormones’, with 61 percent, 60 percent and 58 percent considering them important or very important respectively.

The market researcher said the lower ranking of organic is maybe more due to shifting food trends than lessening enthusiasm for organic foods, however. “As more and more ‘organic’ products and ingredients came to market in recent years, many shoppers began to consider the organic claim a new standard and shifted their attention to new issues,” they say.

They pose the question as to how quickly some of the newer quality claims will become accepted practices, and which issues and claims will be next to meet rising consumer expectations.

Safety first

The top quality claims of concern to consumers are all to do with food safety – and the most meaning was drawn from those relating to what they do not want to see in their food, like mercury, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.

They also appreciated origin claims, like ‘Produced in the USA’, ‘locally grown’ and ‘from family farms’, since these carry an assumption of safety. Many respondents expressed concern over imported food safety standards.

However Context Marketing said that ethical claims are also important with a large subset of consumers, and many ethical issues have safety angles to them too. For example, a consumer may link raising an animal humanely to other responsible practices that allay safety concerns, like no antibiotic use.

“Many consumers see ethical claims as an important part of a cluster of responsible behaviours shown by food producers and manufacturers.”

Moreover, ethical claims can help build ‘brand virtue’, generating more trust, loyalty, and word-of-mouth referrals.

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