Just half of Brits trust the food industry to provide safe food to eat

July 3, 2013

Six months on from the horse meat scandal, British consumers remain highly sceptical about the efficiency of the British food industry. Indeed, new research from Mintel reveals a startling lack of confidence among British consumers in the UK food industry’s ability to provide food that is safe to eat.

Exclusive research looking at attitudes towards trust in food finds just half (49%) of all Brits trust the food industry to provide safe food to eat, with almost two fifths (37%) undecided. What is more, only 42% of all Brits believe the food industry is able to effectively react to food scares (such as BSE and horse meat) while just 23% of the nation agree that the different elements of the supply chain work effectively together.

Consumer concerns about food safety appear to relate to the industry’s lack of awareness of their supply chains. Just 36% of consumers feel that food manufacturers are aware of where their ingredients originate from, with around the same number (34%) disagreeing. Furthermore, a large minority (37%) of Brits disagree that supermarkets are aware of where their ingredients originate from. Today, just 23% of the nation agree that the different elements of the supply chain work effectively together.

Alex Beckett, Senior Food Analyst at Mintel, said:

“That food should not be harmful should be one of the most basic of consumer expectations, yet only half of adults feel the UK food industry provides food that is safe to eat, signalling a widespread breakdown of trust in the agri-food chain, and suggesting the need for more active communications and greater transparency towards consumers. The fact that just 36% of consumers believe manufacturers know where their ingredients originate highlights just how long and convoluted modern food supply chains can be. The food industry looks set to face much work to regain consumer trust.”

Nearly eight in ten (77%) adults consider the food industry to be too reliant on mass manufacturing, with agreement broadly rising with age (70% of 16-24 year olds compared to 84% of 55-64 year olds). The findings also illustrate how labelling concerns echo consumer misgivings about the operators’ inability to control their supply chains. Only two fifths (40%) of adults trust supermarkets and food manufacturers to provide accurate labelling on food packaging. Meanwhile, men (45%) are considerably more likely than women (36%) to be positive about the accuracy of on-pack information. This is in line with men being the more likely to agree that the food industry provides food that is safe (men 53% vs women 46%) and also that supermarkets are aware of the origin of their ingredients (men 35% vs women 29%) .

“The grocers and manufacturers have typically not drawn attention to suppliers of own-brand products, but providing these details on-pack could help to support consumer trust in the grocers’ sourcing.” Alex continues.

In terms of food safety, the British public consider the government (38%) and food manufacturers (39%) to have around the same level of responsibility in providing food that is safe to eat. Affordability is largely the responsibility of  supermarkets (62%), together with the need to source food from the UK as much as possible (37%).

Of all the aspects of the food chain people think the government should be accountable for, food safety takes top spot. Nearly two fifths (38%) of adults consider it the government’s responsibility to ensure that food is safe to eat, which is higher than responsibilities regarding sustainability (29%), health (10%) and promoting sourcing of food from the UK (14%).

The top 5 factors which would encourage consumer trust in food are -1. British ingredients 48%, 2. Manufacturing details on food labelling (where and when made) 47%, 3. Animal welfare certificate 45%, 4. Product origin on the pack 43% and 5. No artificial ingredients 43%.

However, the uproar brings some positive news for the domestic food industry. Interest in food of local origin (e.g. 30 mile radius) increased from 17% to 21% in the four months to March 2013 and interest in regional produce also increased from 10% to 14% over the same period.

Finally, in a separate piece of research consumers who have purchased ready meals labelled as beef were asked about their attitudes towards the market post horse meat scandal. Around one in five (21%) Brits were worried they might have bought affected products. Slightly less (18%) said they will avoid ready meals with beef as a result of the scandal, while one in ten (10%) say they will now avoid frozen ready meals and 9% any ready meal. Price is an issue for 38% who say they don’t trust meals that are too cheap (£1). Just one in ten (9%) say they believe the problem has been solved.


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