Consumers are not only very aware of food safety issues, they have significantly changed their shopping habits because of them. Similar patterns are evident among food industry professionals - manufacturers, distributors, retailers - a majority of whom have, in the past five years, changed their business practices to adapt to concerns about the safety of food products.
These and other findings are contained in "Food Safety Certification: A Study of Food Safety in the U.S. Supply Chain" sponsored by DNV. Data was generated from online surveys of more than 400 consumers and 73 food companies under the management of Michigan State University.
"Nearly half of the consumers we surveyed expressed a change in shopping patterns because of food safety," says Dr. Chris Peterson, director of the Product Center at MSU. "It is interesting and important to note that higher price alone, is not a direct signal of safer food. Even brand name recognition is not the most powerful indicator of safety."
What Signifies "Safe"?
"Common sense tell us that people expect safe food, but we wanted to know more about how stakeholders, including consumers,, react to different signals of quality and safety," says Kathy Wybourn, director of food safety solutions for DNV. "That's crucial if we, as an industry, are going to create unified solutions, and improve the delivery of safer products to the stores and onto the tables of consumers."
According to this new study, U.S. consumers want to see evidence on product labels, that the food they are buying has passed some kind of independent safety certification process. Moreover, slightly more than one-third of consumers indicate a willingness to pay a premium, upwards of 30 percent more, for products with a safety certification label.
Food industry professionals also value third-party certification but place a higher emphasis on "traceability".
"As much as any other product in our modern lives, food comes from a very complex and interconnected supply chain," says Dr. Peterson. "When there is a salmonella outbreak, or some other food-borne safety threat, the immediate priority is to trace the source of the problem. It's sort of the 9-1-1 mechanism of food safety. So we are not surprised that industry professionals place more emphasis on traceability, while consumers want to see certification on product labels. These are the market-based food safety processes. Consumers still see mandatory inspection by government as the most credible signal of food safety, with certification and traceability coming in a close second and third."
Other key findings of the survey include:
- When it comes to "sustainability," food suppliers and consumers believe that recycling, social justice, "green" practices, economic viability and animal welfare are important, but the most important attribute is safer and healthier food.
- Consumers have particular concern about domestic meat products, and in general, all products coming from international sources.
- A significant number of food suppliers are moving to implement certification audits primarily as a risk management tool; in general food suppliers see a need for lower cost of implementation, and a more consolidated/harmonized set of standards for third-party food safety certification.
The MSU Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) was established in 2003 to support the development of high value, consumer-responsive products and businesses in the food, agriculture and bioeconomy sectors. The Center works with entrepreneurs and established companies, providing varied technical expertise, research, outreach, and educational services. The Center has offices located on Michigan State University's campus in East Lansing.
DNV Business Assurance is a world leading certification body. We work with our customers to assure the performance of their products, processes and organisations through certification, assessment and training services. Our services help customers build stakeholder trust and create a platform for sustainable business performance. Founded in 1864 as an independent foundation, DNV has 9000 employees working in 300 offices within 100 countries. DNV Business Assurance provides a global footprint with 1600 employees working in 40 countries to ensure our customers continued success locally, and in an ever-changing global environment.
For more information visit www.dnvcert.com.