New study reveals consumers’ 2020 food vision

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 27th October 2008

supermarket shopping

Today’s consumers want to have a greater say about food ingredients, safety and quality, and by the year 2020, consumers around the globe expect the way they choose and shop for food to be different, according to a recent study of consumers in five countries.

The study, called ‘Food 2020: The Consumer as CEO’, examined the perceptions, expectations and considerations about food among consumers in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Argentina and China, and sought to provide an outlook on the food industry by the year 2020.

At least half of the 1,000 consumers surveyed said they want more consumer involvement in the use of ingredients and additives; the source of ingredients and the treatment of animals; nutritional content; and who should be responsible for food safety and quality. With the exception of China, only one-third or fewer consumers were interested in being involved in making food easier to prepare or shop for.

“Food companies often ask consumers about food preparation and convenience, but the areas where consumers want more control are the ones where food companies are least likely to seek consumer input,” said Linda Eatherton, Partner and Director of Ketchum’s Global Food & Nutrition Practice, which commissioned the survey. “These survey results indicate that food companies are asking the wrong questions.”

The survey also revealed that consumers around the world expect food companies to be responsible for their health and well-being and that this expectation will continue into the year 2020. Consumers also anticipate the way they shop for and choose foods to be different by 2020. Among all countries, 75% of consumers said they would like to see food companies place a great emphasis on creating foods that reduce the risk of major health issues in the future.

“Consumers want more information about ingredients and health benefits from both supermarkets and restaurants,” said Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert, who worked with Ketchum to develop the survey and analyze the data. “Food companies should be aware of these expectations as they focus on product development in the future.”

Taste, quality and price remain the leading considerations in choosing foods – except in China, where health benefits are most important. Among all of the countries surveyed, 74% of consumers chose taste as a key consideration, but China gave taste the least consideration, with 69% of consumers citing it. In China, 78% of consumers said “health benefits” were a key consideration, compared to just 53% of respondents from all countries. The notion that health is a key factor in the purchase decision for approximately half of consumers, combined with the consumer demand for the food industry to be more responsible for their health and wellbeing, implies that the health trend is likely to continue to gather momentum.

Other notable findings included:

* Knowledge, taste and availability were found to be key barriers to healthier eating. When asked what factors, besides cost, prevent them from buying healthier foods, 44% of consumers cited “knowing what’s truly healthy”; 43% cited taste; and 35% cited availability.

* Consumers want good taste, but they also want to know more about their food. Approximately 63% of consumers want to be able to recognise all of the ingredients on a food label; 34% want foods to be made with as few ingredients as possible. Concern was at its greatest in Argentina and lowest in China.

* Only one-third of consumers cited “brand name” as among the factors they consider when buying food. Brand name lagged well behind factors such as quality, price, health benefits, value, convenience of preparation and, of course, taste. Although brand power is likely to fluctuate between food categories.

* Consumers are keen on local food, but they’re not willing to pay for it – in terms of either cost or taste. Two-thirds (66%) of consumers think at least some of their foods are from other countries . . . but just 17% of consumers said they “don’t care where food comes from” as long as it’s affordable and tastes good. Consumers in Argentina were the most likely to care about food sourcing, with more than 60% disagreeing with the idea that taste and cost override where food has been produced. Consumers in China are the least concerned about sourcing, with at least 30% agreeing that they “don’t care where food comes from” as long as it’s affordable and tasty.

* Consumers want food companies to help solve societal issues related to food and nutrition, and they are willing to pay for it – within reason. Globally, more than 40% of consumers said they would be likely to pay more for food if it would improve the quality of water and food and bring medicines to those in need. Sixty-five (65%) of consumers surveyed said that “improving human nutrition” would be their top priority if they were CEO of a global food company; “making food that is safer” would be a close second (64%); and “making foods that taste great” would the third-highest priority (52%).

* Consumers are hoping food companies can play a role in addressing obesity issues . . . but they don’t want to eat less. Forty-five percent (45%) of consumers think food companies should help address obesity concerns, with more than half of those in Argentina and the U.K. holding this view. And 63% of consumers believe food companies should help reduce obesity by decreasing junk foods; while just 21% think companies should reduce portion sizes to address this issue. Fifty-six percent of consumers think companies should help reduce the risk of major health issues and disease by making foods with more nutrients per calorie.

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* Consumers expect how they choose and shop for food to be different by 2020, with imports becoming more prominent. Forty-three percent of consumers believe that the kinds of foods we eat in the year 2020 will be different than what we eat today; 39% believe the way we shop for food will be different; 56% of consumers would like to see the food industry come up with easier ways to identify healthy foods on restaurant menus; and 53% would like restaurants to offer healthier foods.

* 78% of consumers indicated they would like to get their foods from local farms or companies by the year 2020, but most expect even more of their foods will come from other countries by then – with 34% of consumers expecting “most” or “all” of their food to be imported by 2020, compared to 21% who think “most” or “all” of their food is imported today.