Viewpoints

Consumers Weigh In on the ‘Least-Safe’ Foods

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If you're a food supplier, you're probably doing everything you can to ensure food safety, right? So are those efforts making consumers feel more secure about your categories?

Results of a new poll from The Supermarket Guru Consumer Panel point to big perception problems for a range of perishables categories, including poultry, lettuce, fruits and fish. Consumers expressed safety concerns about these categories, and the challenge is to understand the reasons and how to counter the negative impressions.

You can see the results, and related findings, in our Data Points section.

The consumer feedback follows another perilous year on the food safety front, with crises including a major egg recall.

Consumer panel respondents were asked which foods are the least safe, and were instructed to pick two. Here's how categories ranked, and those with highest percentages were considered least safe: Chicken/poultry, 49%; lettuce, 47%; fruits (where you consume the skin), 33%; fish, 26%; meat, 25%; eggs, 15%; broccoli, 6%; fruits (where you don't consume the skin) 1%; nuts/no shell (almonds, cashews), 1%; nuts/shell (pistachios, walnuts, peanuts), 1%.

There are lots of likely reasons for these responses, including reaction to recent recalls, examination of science-based information, and proliferation of misinformation.

But one thing is indisputable: Consumers are more focused on safety and have strong opinions. That point is underscored in the survey's other findings. A total of 77% of respondents said the U.S. needs more oversight and stringent policies regarding safety. Some 61% said they rewash bagged lettuce and vegetables that are labeled “already washed.”

A surprising 76% of consumers are checking countries and continents of origin for both fresh and packaged foods, and actively avoiding manufactured and imported foods from China (71%), Mexico (41%) and Africa (39%), among other regions.

But truly determining country of origin may be harder than they think. “Almost three-quarters of people said they avoid buying foods from China,” said Phil Lempert, CEO of SupermarketGuru.com and The Lempert Report, and SN contributing editor. “The question is, ‘What would they do if they really knew how much of the ingredients in their foods were from China?’”

Let's get back to the least-safe foods list. That's a ranking that no suppliers want their categories to be associated with. All companies should revisit their supply chains to ensure the existence of safety plans and certifications, because such proactive measures are essential. Beyond that, consumer education can play a big role. Companies should do everything they can to teach customers how to reduce risks in buying and preparation. They need to explain why past food scares weren't necessarily reflective of risk levels of entire categories. The more honest and transparent the dialogue, the more effective it will be in shaping perceptions.

Contributors

David Orgel

David Orgel is executive director, content & user engagement, of Supermarket News (SN) and its website, SupermarketNews.com. Orgel delivers his opinions on industry trends through a bi-weekly...

Jon Springer

Jon Springer has been writing about food, food retailers and food retailing for more than 10 years, and is in his second tour of duty with Supermarket News. His prior experience includes covering the...
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In their Viewpoints columns, SN editors give their perspectives on current industry issues.

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