Food-Safety Worries Change Purchase Behavior

February 16, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | CPG & FMCG | Retail & E-Commerce | Women

More than nine in 10 US consumers (93%) have recently read or heard reports of food safety issues and recalls, and almost a fourth say the recalls will change their long-term food-buying behavior, according to a study by Burson-Marsteller and Penn Schoen & Berland Associates (via Retailer Daily).


Although two-thirds (68%) of Americans believe the instances of food contamination have increased in the past five years, 87% continue to somewhat or strongly agree that the US has one of the strongest food safety systems in the world, the study of US consumer attitudes about food safety also found.


Companies with strong brand awareness are more likely to withstand an incident of food contamination than less well known companies, the study said. Such an incident at a familiar company is more likely to be judged an isolated event than a similar incident at a lesser- known food company.

Among the survey’s other key findings:

  • Nearly half (49%) of mothers say they are avoiding products with peanut butter ingredients even if they are not on the government’s recall list.
  • 19% of mothers went as far as throwing away all peanut products in their house even though there is no safety issue with many of them.
  • 65% of consumers say during a food contamination outbreak they change their short-term food buying habits, but not long-term behavior.
  • However 23% of consumers (and 27% of mothers) said the most recent food scare will change their long-term food-purchasing habits.
  • More than two in five consumers believe food processors are to blame for recent food contamination issues.
  • One in four consumers blames regulators for recent food contamination issues.
  • Nearly half of consumers believe that regulators bear the responsibility for protecting the public.

Peanut, Peanut Butter Sales Down

“The peanut butter [salmonella] outbreak shows little ill-effect on prepackaged peanuts, but the peanut butter category is definitely showing the impact,” according to Todd Hale, Senior Vice President, Consumer & Shopper Insights at Nielsen.

“It would appear that manufacturers and retailers are quickly removing potentially tainted products off of store shelves. For those who are not affiliated with the particular supplier of tainted product, now is the time to take extra measures to educate consumers and minimize any negative impact.”

Nielsen tracks sales of peanut products at food, drug and mass merchandise stores (excluding Wal-Mart); it issued the following stats on peanut butter sales:

  • $72.5 million of jarred peanut butter was sold during the four-weeks, down 11.5% during the previous four-week period and down 3.8% compared to the same period a year ago. While the year-over-year decline may seem minimal, it comes after eight consecutive periods of double digit growth in this category.
  • 33.8 million pounds of jarred peanut butter was sold during the four weeks, down 11% from the previous four weeks and down 22.1% from the same period a year ago.

About the survey: Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates conducted a quantitative internet survey among 501 general consumers February 5-6, 2009, to examine perceptions about food contamination issues and corporate response to those issues. Within the general consumer population, we also examined differences among moms with children under the age of 18 living at home (N=78).

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