Consumers want more information about the food they buy, and technology such as smart phones could address demand for more detail on products following the horsemeat crisis and other scandals.
A survey of UK consumers commissioned by Trace One showed 63% of shoppers said their trust in the food industry has been damaged by revelations such as the horsemeat crisis, and 83% want more transparency and information on products.
Nick Martin, senior vice president, Trace One, told FoodQualityNews.com the survey shows the impact of the horsemeat scandal has not gone away.
A more savvy consumer
“I think the analysis really does back up what many in the industry feel has been a significant impact on consumer trust and confidence,” he said. “I think there was a hope the issue had subdued, but clearly it has not.
“There’s a fundamental shift taking place in the industry, and when I say industry I include the consumer. The consumer is becoming increasingly more demanding, more savvy, with more access to information.”
With UK consumers spending £112bn (€137bn, $188bn) on food and drink in 2013, the issue of trust needs to be addressed to prevent a big loss in revenue for the industry, said Martin.
Consumers want information ranging from the origin of products and their ingredients, health information (such as calorie or fat counts), ethical considerations (such as fair trade) and farming methods, he added.
Given the limited space available on packaging, some of the information can be made available online. Packs can include a QR code for consumers to scan with their phone.
“More and more consumers look for product information on the smart phone,” Martin said. “Adoption of technology is a trend, it doesn’t happen overnight, but we see that trend increasing. Certainly for the more complex products, and where there’s a limitation on labelling.”
Technology also provides consumers with instant information, when they want it, he added.
'You can tell 10,000 people in 10 minutes'
But technology can be a double-edged sword, and Martin said it reinforces the need for producers to address consumer trust.
“When something goes wrong, there’s a crisis or a bad example, the consumer has far more access to bad news and bad information. Bad news travels very quickly. Many years ago, if you had a bad experience, you’d tell 10 people. These days you can tell 10,000 people in 10 minutes.”
The survey of 2,298 adults over 16 asked shoppers what factors were most likely to influence purchasing decisions. Health information was the top factor, with 60% listing it as the first or second most important information, and only 10% considering it least important.
Farming methods were the most important to 15% of those surveyed, with 37% considering them least or second least important. Ethics was the lowest consideration to shoppers: with 9% placing it as the most important consideration, and 49% putting it last or second last.
The over-65 group showed the greatest loss of trust in the food industry, and were particularly concerned about products’ country of origin. In contrast, 16-24 year olds had the least trust lost in the industry.
“I think it’s about what consumers have been used to in the past,” said Martin. “The older generation originally experienced less processed food, more fresh food, more from the local butcher or local greengrocer. The 16-24s have grown up in a world of fast food and processed food.”
Trace One offers a software-as-a-service platform, for managing the development and quality of private label products. It commissioned the study from TNS.