LONDON -- A study by Harris Interactive Europe, a global market research and consulting firm here, indicates that consumers from six European countries are highly concerned about the safety of their food.
The Natural Foods study was conducted via QuickQuery Europe earlier this year to gauge the attitudes among Europeans about food safety and other health-related food issues. The survey was conducted online, polling 10,581 adults in six European countries: 2,637 in Great Britain; 2,547 in France; 1,273 in Germany; 2,407 in Spain; 1,301 in Italy and 416 in Belgium.
Figures for region, age, sex, education and income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.
On the question of food safety, Europeans were asked how concerned they were about the safety of their food, including products such as meat and produce. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (71%) said they were at least somewhat concerned about food safety. About one-third (32%) said they were very/extremely concerned.
In examining responses from individual countries, Germans and Italians voiced the highest concern about food safety. Italians showed the highest concern (19% were extremely concerned) among the six countries. Belgians also indicated a high degree of concern with 38% saying they were very/extremely concerned about the safety of their food.
Spaniards, meanwhile, seemed the least concerned, with 40% saying they were not very concerned or not at all concerned. The British also expressed little concern with one-third (32%) saying they were not very or at all concerned.
In examining gender and age as it relates to food safety, generally speaking women showed greater concern than men. Older adults showed more concern than younger adults.
In Great Britain, 33% of women indicated they are very/extremely concerned about food safety, compared to 26% of men. And 39% of British men said they are not very/not at all concerned about the issue, compared to 25% of women in Great Britain.
French women (35%) also said they are more concerned about food safety than their male counterparts (27%). Variance by age in France was not as strong as that seen for other countries.
German women were also more concerned than German men (55% vs. 40%). However, the 40% concern among German men was still higher than overall concern in all except Italy. This higher degree of concern among German males was driven by those aged 40 to 64, the survey found.
Concern among Spanish adults was roughly equal between men (19%) and women (23%). More Spanish men said they are not very/not at all concerned than Spanish women (48% vs. 32%).
Italian men and women felt equally strong concern about food safety (45% of men and 46% of women felt very/extremely concerned). This strength of concern was fairly constant across all age/gender ranges, according to the survey.
A strong percentage (45%) of Belgian women said food safety is of high concern, comparable to Italian adults in strength of concern. At 32%, Belgian men ranked third behind Italian men (45%) and German men (40%) in strength of concern about food safety.
When asked about their feelings about natural and organic foods, over half of the adults in the countries surveyed (56%) agreed that organic or natural foods are healthier for them than other types of food. Half (50%) agreed that organic or natural foods are safer than other types of food.
In comparing this response to an American consumer survey on natural/organic foods conducted for SN by Harris Interactive, Rochester, New York, earlier this year, it appears Europeans more readily embrace the "better for you message" when it comes to natural and organic foods. In the survey of American consumers, just over one-third of respondents (37%) said they agree strongly or somewhat strongly that natural/organic foods are more nutritious than other food and many expressed doubts about the benefits of natural and organic food.
In the European survey, the Germans and Italians appeared most open to positive statements made about organic/natural foods than those in the remaining countries. A high percentage of German adults in particular agreed with the statement, "The majority of my diet consists of organic or 'natural' foods." Those in Britain and Spain seemed least accepting of these statements.
When asked about genetically modified foods, half of the adults in these six countries (50%) agreed they believe that GMO foods could cause future health problems for people who eat them. The French were particularly likely to agree with this statement (58%).
In response to questions on personal diet, the following was important to Europeans.
A large majority (82%) of adults said eating more fruit and vegetables is important to their overall health. This statement was agreed to roughly equally strongly across all six countries.
For 73% surveyed, reducing fat is important to their overall health, again agreed to roughly equally in all six countries.
When it came to sugar, 56% said reducing sugar is important to overall health. Interestingly, fewer Italians and Germans (43%) were less likely to agree to this than those in the other four countries.
Over half (52%) agreed that lowering cholesterol is important to overall health. Those in Spain were the least likely to agree (45%), while those in Great Britain were the most likely to agree (58%).
About half (49%) agreed that reducing salt is important to overall health. In Britain, 62% agreed with this idea, while just 38% of those in Spain agreed.
Italians were the most likely to agree that restricting red meat (e.g., beef) is important to overall health (32%, compared to 21% overall).
Nearly half of the Europeans tended to take their government's announcements regarding health issues not that seriously. The Italians were most likely to take seriously government announcements regarding what they eat, (57% agree, 16% strongly), followed by the Germans (48%, 16%), French (49%, 9%) and Belgians (49%, 8%). The British were less likely to take such announcements seriously (31%, 6%), and the Spaniards least likely of all to do so (25%, 4%).
Nearly 75% of adults in the six European countries tend to read food labels always or often -- a fairly constant finding across all six countries. The likelihood to read labels (always) is strongest among Belgians (43%), weakest among Spaniards (30%).
Consumer Food-Safety Concern in Five European Countries
Europeans were asked how concerned they were about food safety in their respective countries. While consumer concern varied among the five countries, the Germans voiced the most concern and the Spaniards appeared to be the least concerned. Just over a third of the sample was somewhat concerned.