One third of U.S. shoppers have left a supermarket mid-trip because the store was unclean, according to a new consumer study presented at Dairy-Deli-Bake on Sunday.
Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert conducted the study for IDDBA. The study consisted of an online survey of 605 adults.
“If you screw up on food safety you're out of business,” said Lempert.
That doesn't even necessarily mean your product made someone sick. It could just be customers saw a dirty floor or counter, Lempert said. “It's critical that we pay attention to the little things.”
While most respondents said their store was always clean, 25% said the store was occasionally messy. “That has to be zero when it comes to instilling loyalty and consumer confidence,” said Lempert.
Food safety perceptions are especially important when it comes to dairy, deli and bakery. For example, shoppers spend more time in the deli department than in other parts of the store, so they see things they wouldn't notice in center store or the meat department.
Respondents said a clean appearance was very important. The departments should be well lit and cases, equipment and floors should be clean. Lempert said stores should not put down rug runners to hide the floors. Shoppers also don't like visible bug zappers.
Neat and organized cases and prepared foods bars were also a priority for consumers. Cases must have sneeze guards, and visible measures must be taken to avoid cross-contamination. Customers want to see thermometers on cases and displays, and they want to see store employees walking around to check the quality of self-serve prepared foods.
Contrary to what retailers may think, shoppers don't like take-your-own sample stations because they are worried about other shoppers touching the samples.
Another key area for food safety was employee cleanliness. Consumers want to see employees washing their hands and putting on protective gloves. Loose hair, bushy beards, fake nails and body piercings all gave respondents a negative perception of an employee.
Finally, stores should post prominent signs outlining food safety practices, since that shows customers that employees have been trained.
Consumers' top food safety fears are salmonella, cross contamination and E. coli.
However, there is good news for grocers.
“Supermarkets are the most trusted food format when it comes to food safety,” said Lempert.
Far more respondents listed supermarkets as the most trusted on food safety than other formats such as wholesale clubs, superstores, dollar stores and convenience stores.