Nearly three in four (73%) consumers polled as part of a Deloitte-commissioned study expressed “extreme” concern about the safety of products made in China, with about half indicating a similar sentiment about products imported from Southeast Asia (51%) and Mexico (49%).
Participants in the “Food and Product Safety and Its Effect on Consumer Buying Habits” study also said they are “extremely concerned” with the safety of items from India (43%), South Korea (41%) and Latin America (38%).
“China is front and center in the minds of consumers since it was exposed first, but I don't think safety issues are exclusive to China, they're just the ones who've been found out,” said Pat Conroy, Deloitte's vice chairman and consumer products leader.
More than four in 10 women (43%) and consumers who are 55 and older (44%) are “much more concerned” with the safety of packaged foods and beverages than they were one year ago.
Shoppers at Jungle Jim's International Market are more closely scrutinizing imported foods, especially those that are sourced from China, international food manager Tom Hann told SN.
“They're asking where products have come from or where their ingredients [originated],” he said.
Although none of the retailer's selection of approximately 200 items imported from China have been subject to recall, Hann is hesitant to address food safety issues on point-of-sale materials.
“I'd hate to put something up that says ‘these products are safe’ when no one really knows about” the effects of the melamine-tainted feed recently discovered in China, he said.
Greater transparency won't necessarily assuage consumers' safety concerns, but it will help them make more informed purchasing decisions.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents to the poll said that labels providing country of origin would be extremely important in their food product buying decisions, followed by certification of product safety testing (64%) and certification of product quality testing (63%).
The vast majority of consumers would also like at least some more information about the safety of food products provided on packaging (86%), on a company website (81%), from the government (81%) and from the media (72%).
“If you help make it easier for consumers to gain access to the data, it will increase their confidence level, and purchases may go up,” Conroy said.
The consequences of not addressing such issues can be long-lasting.
More than half (51%) of those who changed their buying habits as a result of problems with packaged food and beverages did so for six months or less, 24% for seven to 12 months and 16% for 13 months or longer.
Conroy advises retailers to request from their trading partners information beyond that which a regulatory body would mandate.
He acknowledged that achieving transparency is not without its challenges.
“Over the past 10 years, companies have worked almost exclusively on eliminating costs by revamping their supply chains, and now many are spread across the globe, and they're much harder to control,” Conroy said.
“Still, CPG companies are working very hard to figure out how to transcend geographic borders and each country's standards, to go above and beyond what's mandated.”
More than 1,000 consumers participated in the online study, which was conducted in September by Bayer Consulting.
FOREIGN FOOD FEARS
Nearly two-thirds of consumers (65%) expressed “extreme concern” about the safety of products produced outside the U.S. Much of their apprehension is focused on foods from China.
SOURCE: Deloitte Consulting