Farmers and food retailers alike hear a lot of buzzwords about food these days. But what is actually important to consumers? Service Management Group, or SMG, of Kansas City set out to answer this question in a recent case study sponsored by Where Food Comes From, a third party source verification organization. "We wanted to know, 'what were their concerns about the food that they purchase?'" explains Dr. Joe Cardador, chief research analyst at SMG. This includes how consumers' perceptions have changed and how they get their information about food.
The study involved two samples with similar results. Cardador shared results from one sample at the 2013 National Institute for Animal Agriculture Antibiotic Symposium in Kansas City. The sample was made up of 705 consumers who had shopped for groceries in the past 30 days. Data was collected in early October. Panelists came from across income levels and from each state, although higher-populated states like California and New York had more participants. There were slightly more female than male shoppers, and slightly more shoppers over 44 years old than under.
Consumer panel findings
When buying meat, 56% of respondents said knowing if animals received hormones is important or very important, 54% said knowing if they received antibiotics is important or very important, and 50% said it was important or very important to know whether the animals were raised humanely. When buying dairy and eggs, 57% said it was important or very important to know if the animals received growth hormones, 52% said it was important or very important to know if the animals received antibiotics, and 51% said it was important or very important to know if the animals producing the dairy and eggs were raised humanely. In both categories, 34% said knowing the potential impact on the environment from producing the product was important or very important.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Respondents were also more concerned with food issues than they were a few years ago. 64% said they were more concerned or much more concerned with the safety and impact of antibiotics used in livestock production. 63% said they were more or much more concerned with the safety and impact of hormones and growth promotants in livestock production. 56% said they were more or much more concerned with how humanely animals are raised and handled. "Food safety and food quality issues are more front and center to consumers," Cardador says. "Clearly they're saying they're more concerned about these things than they were in the past."
In this group, 40% of respondents said they preferred to buy from farmer's markets, and 38% said food purchases indicate something about who they are. "Especially when you're looking at the arena of values around food production and particular ideologies, consumers also use their food purchases and decisions to communicate what's important to them," Cardador explains.
But how do they get information about how their food is produced? 73% said they read product labels, while 30% said they used grocery or consumer information websites. 25% said they received information from friends or family members, and 22% said from newspapers, magazines, or newsletters. "Their preference seems to be, which makes sense given that they're busy, [getting information] at the moment of purchase and close to the product itself."
Cardador notes the study did not monitor whether or not the consumers' concerns influenced their purchases. "They have things that are important, but they also have financial considerations around food," he says. "The next step is to learn about their tradeoffs, or how much does that influence their purchase behavior."