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Deloitte’s 2010 Consumer Food Safety Survey has found that while nine out of 10 (90 percent) consumers think food-related recalls are increasing, or about the same, compared with findings from the New York-based company’s 2008 survey, fewer people appear to be concerned by this. According to Deloitte, 65 percent of consumers polled are worried about the quality of the food they eat — a 17 percent drop from two years ago.
“The decline in consumers’ concern for quality from our 2008 survey is due, in part, by their need to become more aware and engaged in choosing the products they buy,” explained Pat Conroy, Deloitte’s vice chairman and U.S. consumer products practice leader. “Consumers view food safety and quality as important issues, and are looking to manufacturers, food companies and government regulatory bodies to drive communication, as well as tackle food quality and safety issues.”
Three out of four (75 percent) Americans surveyed believe that manufacturers/food companies bear the main responsibility for disseminating product recall information, closely paced by government organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration (73 percent), with lower expectations from retailers (53 percent) and the media (51 percent).
When buying food, Americans are doing more hands-on research and reading labels carefully, another indication that they’re becoming more aware of where their food comes from. Half (51 percent) say country-of-origin labels help them decide which fresh meat, fish, fruit or vegetables to buy, and 45 percent say they’d like to find out the country of origin on a Web site for all ingredients in a packaged/bottled food product. The survey additionally found that over half (53 percent) of shoppers often or always read the list of ingredients on an unfamiliar packaged or bottled food item, a practice up three percentage points since 2008.
But although more Americans are reading ingredients, just four out of 10 (45 percent) polled say they understand at least 75 percent of the ingredients on a packaged food item, vs. 33 percent in 2008. Further, 55 percent surveyed understand half or fewer of the ingredients, which is in line with 2008’s 59 percent.
More than half (54 percent) of Americans surveyed often or always check out the “Nutritional Facts” box on an unfamiliar packaged or bottled food item, and 26 percent occasionally, vs. the 15 percent who rarely read it and the 5 percent who never do.
The top five nutritional facts that consumers say they look for are calories (71 percent), total fat (63 percent), sugars (50 percent), sodium (45 percent) and serving size (39 percent). Four out of 10 (42 percent) consumers surveyed frequently or always buy packaged/bottled foods because of such health-related claims as “low-carb,” “low-sodium” and “heart-healthy.”
“Over the past two years, we have seen a significant shift in how consumers view the foods they purchase,” noted Conroy. “Though our survey still shows health and safety as the top two concerns facing Americans, the percentages have dropped and consumers are using their increased knowledge of food products to raise concerns around over-processed foods. Food companies are now dealing with an engaged consumer who actively seeks to understand the products they are looking to buy. This survey should be yet another red flag for the industry, as it shows that consumers are determined to be smarter about the foods they put on their table.”
The survey of 1,102 consumers was commissioned by Deloitte and conducted online by an independent research company in late March.
A copy of Deloitte’s 2010 Food Safety Survey is available at www.deloitte.com/us/foodsafety.