Business Assurance - Viewpoint

What matters to consumers when buying food & beverage products?

General insights

Consumers trust brands to provide safe food

Food safety is a primary concern, and consumers tend to trust branded packaged food products the most. While 48.4% trust brands fully, 85% fully or somehow trust these products to be safe. People are less at ease when buying non-packaged food, with only 31.4% taking food safety for granted and 80.3% fully or somehow. The least trust in placed in packaged products where there seemingly is no visible brand or company. Only 68.6% trust unbranded packaged products fully or somewhat.

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Direct individual impact concerns people most

Consumers want reassurance on aspects directly impacting themselves. When asked about the topics on which they would welcome more information and transparency, food safety (55.1%) and health issues (53.4%) topped the list. The broader sustainability issues such as environmental (38.4%) and social aspects (34.7%) were of less interest, only important for 1 in 3 consumers.

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Health issues: product content and safety are top of mind

When asked specifically about what health issues concern them the most, product content and safety seem of particular concern. People would welcome more information and transparency on product content (65.2%) and on how food safety is secured from farm to fork (62.8%). This is followed by hygiene practices adopted to prevent contamination (58.8%) and allergens or potentially dangerous ingredients (57.6%).

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Environmental issues: production impact stands out

Among the environmental issues on which consumers would welcome more information and transparency, impact of production is top of mind. Sustainability of packaging (67.8%) and use of organic ingredients (57.6%) are the primary concerns. This is followed by details on wider issues such as greenhouse gas emissions (50.6%) and restoration of natural habitats and protection of biodiversity (49.6%).

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Social issues: food waste rated higher than workers’ rights

When asked to rate specific social issues, consumers indicate that first they would welcome more information and transparency on efforts to reduce food waste (61.3%). This is followed by topics concerning the rights of workers in the value chain, i.e. working conditions in fields and factories (56.3%) and human rights (55.5%). Then comes worker empowerment and local community development (38.3%).

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Other sustainability issues: information wanted on how products are produced

Among other sustainability issues, consumers would like to know more about the production process. The origin of the product and ingredients (63.7%) is their first concern. This is followed by respect for animal welfare (52.5%), the total carbon footprint specified (43.9) and vegan or animal-based ingredients clearly specified (39.3%).

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Overall, transparency on product ingredients and safety matters the most

When asked to rate all topics across the categories of health, environment, social and other sustainability issues, consumers’ primary concerns seem to circle around what the product is made of and how its safety is ensured. They want more information and transparency on topics directly affecting them as individuals. A clear indication of the content, the origin of ingredients, hygiene practices to prevent contamination and how food safety is secured from farm to fork are listed top 5. The only other topic making the list, in 4th place has figured quite constantly in the media worldwide: the sustainability of packaging.

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The product is the primary source of information

When looking for product information on quality, safety, environmental, social and health issues, consumers turn to the product. A total of 48.8% look mainly at labels, QR codes or texts written on the product. Other preferred sources range from being more corporate to relationship based. About 31.4% visit the producer’s website, while 28.4% refer to advertising. A total of 27.3% turn to families and friends or social media (24.1%). Moreover, consumers trust more information provided by specific brands. While 89.5% trust specific brands to a large extent (42%) or somewhat, only 63.7% say the same for information provided through unbranded food products.

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Communication key to capture value from independent verification and certification

A total of 67.5% would pay more if a product’s information on quality, safety, environmental, social and health issues was verified by an independent third party. It increases to 69% if the food product or its manufacturer was certified to a recognized quality or food safety standard. Millennials are more inclined to pay for such assurance, with Generation Z (ages 18-24) 10 percentage points and Generation Y (ages 25-39) 7 percentage points higher. However, 1 in 2 consumers indicate that they do not know how to check whether a product or company has been certified or not. There seems to be a huge upside if companies could communicate their certification directly to consumers.

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QR codes have significant potential to engage consumers

Most consumers know of QR codes. However, while 45.7% have noted or scanned a product’s QR code, only 18.5% regularly use them. There seems to be a tendency of higher, regular use when trust in food safety is lower and checking seen as an individual responsibility. In China, 39% scan QR codes regularly. 

The numbers increase drastically if QR codes  gave access to detailed information on the product’s origin and authenticity. Then 65% would become regular users, indicating that QR codes hold an untapped potential for companies to share what’s behind their products. Companies who can to make consumers realize that the QR code is the gateway to information they seek can establish a direct channel with consumers and differentiate their products.

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