A recent SGS Institut Fresenius study on quality awareness of foodstuff and consumer trust in Germany issued poor marks to food manufacturers. The latest food scandals and discussions about additives and genetically modified food have had an unnerving effect on German consumers. Every second consumer is afraid of false labeling and deceptive packaging of products sold in supermarkets.
The SGS Institut Fresenius population-representative study is an annual barometer for the food purchase satisfaction of German consumers. This year’s study focused on quality awareness and perception of foodstuff, especially orientation during shopping and the reliability of product information. For this 2010 study, SGS Institut Fresenius called on the prestigious Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach to carry out 1,827 face-to-face interviews with German consumers aged 16 and up.
Fears Over Food Labeling
When buying food, the biggest fear of German consumers is that the actual product is not what the package says. Every other consumer fears that, for example, a strawberry jam doesn’t contain any strawberries. Consumers are equally worried they will buy products that contain genetically modified ingredients. The root of such worries seems to lie in the fact that 50% of consumers don’t believe that food products are as healthy as manufacturers claim. Similarly, 48% suspect that the important aspects about ingredients are hidden on packages or are not presented at all. The same percentage thinks that food additives such as taste amplifiers and colorings are harmful. The study further revealed that every other consumer has difficulties or is completely unable to understand the information presented on food packaging. This seems to be a problem especially for consumers aged 45 and over and for those without post secondary education.
Problems Identifying Healthy Food
Based on the information presented on packaging, three quarters of all Germans are unable to judge if a food item is healthy or not. For instance two thirds are unable to tell if a product is adequate for those with allergies or diabetes and more than half of consumers cannot judge whether and which additives are present.
More alarmingly, over 70% of those participating in the study admitted they cannot recognize from the packaging if a product is suitable for children. The study also shows that women are more quality-conscious food shoppers than men. Food quality is the most important factor behind the buying decision for most women (63%), while for men a convenient price seems to be slightly more important than the quality of food products.
Compared to previous studies and in spite of the abundant food choice on the German market, one in four consumers finds it more difficult to keep a healthy diet. As the SGS Institut Fresenius study reveals, food packaging plays a central role in the consumer’s inability to buy healthy.
Trusting quality seals and family - mistrust in the industry
Another important reason for the fear of misleading packaging lies in the consumers’ mistrust in statements from the food industry and policy makers. The study revealed that only one in ten consumers see the information presented by food manufacturers and supermarket advertising prospects as reliable. The situation is even worse when it comes to trust in information presented by consumer protection or health policy makers.
So who do German consumers trust then? Well it seems they overwhelmingly place their trust in independent test institutions (73%) and independent consumer’s advice centers (67%). Independent test quality seals seem to be recognized and trusted by at least one third of consumers. Furthermore, the personal sphere seems to be an important source of information when it comes to food products, as 55% of the study respondents admitted that appraisals from family and friends influence their food buying decisions.
The solution to increasing trust in the German food industry and food policy could lie in reinforced controls of the food sector. As the SGS Institut Fresenius study points out, 38% of consumers consider that current food quality controls are not sufficient in Germany.
Regional Foods Beat the BioTrend
When it comes to food selection criteria the needs of German consumers vary significantly. The study shows that most Germans want fresh food (86%) consisting of high quality ingredients (60%) at a convenient price (57%). In addition, it seems a new trend is emerging: regional foods. As consumers gradually realize the importance of living sustainably they are now more interested in buying regional products (47%). In fact, more German consumers are interested in buying regional products (47%) than bio or ecological products (23%). The trust in the governmental “Bio Siegel” (organic seal) seems to be gradually fading, as it has become apparent that more than half the products that are labeled with this seal are not organic at all. Healthy foods are still a major factor, with almost half of German consumers interested in low fat foods and non-genetically modified foods.
It’s vital that food manufacturers and policy decision makers work to regain consumers trust. As this study demonstrates, manufacturers need to make the quality of their products more visible and easier to understand, while food industry regulators can increase their credibility through stricter market surveillance.
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SGS INSTITUT FRESENIUS GmbH
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