ARMONK, N.Y. — Shoppers are more informed about product safety, whether environmentally friendly methods are used throughout the supply chain, and other information about the food and beverages they buy, according to a new study.
Sixty percent of the U.S. consumers surveyed claimed they are already more knowledgeable about the food they buy now vs. two years ago, and 40% said they're also better educated about the source of foods they buy, according to IBM's Institute for Business Value survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers and more than 600 U.K. consumers.
“That said, 70% also said they would like even more information about the content and source of products,” said Guy Blissett, global consumer products lead for the IBM Institute for Business Value.
Curiosity is at its height when product recalls are made, Blissett added.
That's the case at Highland Park Markets, Glastonbury, Conn., where shoppers bombard store employees and managers with questions when recalls are announced, said Tim Cummiskey, grocery manager for the retailer's South Windsor location.
“When a recall first breaks, a lot of customers will ask questions. We make sure we have the facts from consumer protection agencies and other groups like FMI,” said Cummiskey. “We also put up signs at the shelf or in the produce department explaining why the product is not there.”
Despite the retailer's efforts to curb consumer panic, recalls often lead to a long-term distrust of a brand, he added. Consider the recent Peter Pan peanut butter recall. Even after the recall was cleared, Highland Park was unable to get the product into its stores due to a distribution problem. Shoppers have yet to ask where the brand is or when it will be in stock again.
The impact of recalls has been similar at Fresh Encounter stores, Findlay, Ohio.
“Our dog food sales were not affected greatly due to the [pet food] recall. However, spinach has been very slow to come back after the E. coli contamination last year,” said Eric Anderson, senior vice president of advertising and marketing for the chain.
Like Highland Park, Fresh Encounter's personnel are frequently approached with questions about contaminated foods, but shoppers also probe them for information on sources of other foods, too, added Anderson.
In response, the retailer has implemented an “Eat Local Foods” campaign, highlighting all locally grown or locally made items using signage.
Blissett said the fact that consumers turn to retailers with their questions isn't surprising.
When asked to imagine a product contamination scenario and then asked whether they trusted food manufacturers to have their best interests in mind, 40% of respondents said no. But when asked if they would trust the stores/retailers to have their best interests in mind in the same situation, 75% said yes.
The best way for retailers and manufacturers to put consumers at ease is to make the supply chain more transparent, he added.
Some overseas retailers are already incorporating better traceability practices into their operations. During a store visit in the U.K. this year, Blissett noticed a bag of carrots at a Sainsbury's location that carried information about the county in England where the produce was from, and even the first and last name of the farmer who grew the carrots.