HOUSTON — Only 52.3% of supermarket shoppers feel confident today that their fresh fruits and vegetables are being grown under safe and appropriate conditions, according to a recent survey conducted by Cornell University researchers Edward W. McLaughlin, Kristen Park and Debra Perosio.
Results of the survey, which questioned 544 consumers in four different U.S. markets regarding their opinions on produce safety — as well as the perceived differences between organic and conventionally grown produce — were discussed by a panel of retailers here at the Produce Marketing Association's annual Fresh Summit convention this month.
Forty mid- to senior-level produce executives completed the same survey online, told to make their best guess about how shoppers would answer the questions. According to their responses, many produce managers might be surprised to find their shoppers so pessimistic. Fully 90% of retailers expected their shoppers to be confident about growing conditions.
“We have more information than our consumers have — we know we're doing the job that we need to do, but our customers don't have all of that information,” noted panelist Michael O'Brien, vice president of produce for Schnuck Markets.
Other panelists agreed.
“We probably, as an industry, are not doing enough to communicate to our consumers what we know,” said Don Harris, vice president of produce for Wild Oats.
In addition, 53.1% of shopper respondents said that quality and taste were more important than how produce was grown, and 73.3% said they would pay extra for fruits and vegetables certified as being grown under safe farming practices. In both cases, retailer respondents failed to anticipate these answers by significant margins.
Panelists said they tend to be skeptical whenever a survey asks whether shoppers were willing to pay more for something, but they noted that the differences in response outlined by the survey could indicate a need to educate shoppers about upstream safety measures.
“In our minds, [these safety measures are] something that's already being done, and the cost of that is already built into the products,” said Michael Agostini, merchandise manager, produce and floral, at Wal-Mart Stores. “The shoppers don't understand that they already are paying for those certifications through the supply chain, or that those certifications are already being done.”