Survey shows consumer concern about preparation, not supply

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By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 06-Apr-2009

American confidence in supermarkets’ food safety has slipped steadily over the past five years but this does not necessarily reflect lower confidence in the food supply, says The NPD Group.

The market researcher's NPD Food Safety Monitor has tracked consumer confidence in food safety and eating intentions every two weeks since 2001, and found that while five years ago 68 percent of consumers agreed that food sold in supermarkets was safe overall, that figure has fallen every year, to 63 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, consumer confidence in the safety of restaurant food has remained more or less constant, at around 49 percent.

Chief industry analyst and vice president of NPD Harry Balzer told that he felt that it is this convergence which is of particular significance. He said that it shows that the falling confidence in supermarket food safety has less to do with perception of the safety of the food supply, and more to do with the kinds of foods now sold by supermarkets.

He said: “I don’t get that sense that Americans are saying that their food supply is less safe, just that we are changing the way we deliver food to Americans.”

Handling concerns

He said that the numbers have come closer together as supermarkets sell more food like packaged sandwiches and rotisserie chickens – foods that need more handling in preparation.

Although a fall of five percent over five years may not seem considerable, Balzer said: “It is significant because they are not saying the same thing in the food service arena. We have been hit with a lot of food safety issues over the past decade…If they were both moving down I would have thought that it was related to concern about the food supply. I think it’s about supermarkets preparing more food.

His views contrast with a poll conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center at the end of last year, in which 48 percent of respondents said their confidence in the safety of the nation's food supply had decreased.

That survey showed that 83 percent were concerned with harmful bacteria or chemicals in food and 81 percent were concerned with the safety of imported food.

Top ten food fears

According to the most recent NPD Food Safety Monitor, Americans’ top food safety concerns are salmonella and E. coli, with 80 percent of respondents indicating at least some level of concern, although Balzer said: “Those two always top the list. They go up if there is an incident, but they always settle around the same level.”

The most recent survey had trans fatty acids a close third at 79 percent, followed by mercury in fish/seafood (68 percent), mad cow (65), high fructose corn syrup (58), artificial growth hormones in milk (64), genetically modified foods (51), foot and mouth (48), and meat/milk from cloned animals rounding out the top ten at 42 percent.

Balzer said that the food safety monitor was started up in the wake of the European BSE outbreak.



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