Cristina Jodar Marco / 13 May 2024

The current consumer and food safety: educated or informed? Key insights for companies from market research

Food safety is a key factor in building consumer confidence in a brand or product. What aspects are most relevant to consumers when considering a product as safe? What packaging elements are key factors for consumers seeking safety? Is the current consumer informed and educated about food safety regarding what they purchase and/or consume? In this article, we delve into the key factors and some tools that food sector companies must consider to instill trust and safety in consumers.

According to the latest 2017 Annual Report by the European Commission on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), there has been an increase of 132.57 percent in products from Spain that triggered a food alert compared to 2016. The report also shows that, of all the alerts issued in the EU, 6.24 percent were related to Spain. Given these figures, it is considered that the European food chain is, as stated in the European Commission’s “White Paper on Food Safety,” one of the safest in the world.

In the foreseeable scenario of future alerts and even a possible food safety crisis, it is easy for consumers to lose confidence in the affected brand or product. There are tools available that can predict or anticipate these crises by detecting food alerts, thus preventing a loss of consumer confidence and consequently the delicate situation the company faces.

Experience in food safety crises teaches us that when such a crisis erupts in the media, there is a mass aversion reaction towards other products in the same category as the cause of the crisis, even if they have not been involved due to social fear. Additionally, as mentioned in the article “Alerts and Contamination: Consumer Perception of Food Safety,” often due to ignorance or lack of information, the consumer’s reaction to a potential food safety risk can be to discard the food out of fear, not to purchase it, or, conversely, to underestimate the danger, resulting in unnecessary food waste or exposure to a health hazard.

Consumer Perception of Food Safety

Consumers take it for granted that the products they purchase for consumption are safe for their health, which is why there is no demand concerning this factor in consumer products. Consumers understand that if products are available on the market, it means they have already passed all the necessary controls and analyses to ensure safety in consumption.

Trust and transparency are two of the recommendations made by the EFSA to companies in its “Risk Communication Guidelines.” These two factors are essential in ensuring consumer confidence and that, in the event of potential crises, it remains unshaken.

Now, let’s discuss food safety in a broader sense—what can offer consumers assurance in food products? There are many elements that convey safety to the consumer, from the packaging that preserves and protects the product, to the labeling.

According to recent studies by AINIAFORWARD conducted for various products: a clear label that specifies all ingredients, a clearly visible expiration date, among others, are consumer demands and needs that are repeatedly expressed. However, behind this demand for information lies a lack of understanding of certain aspects such as the “E” numbers on labels, the utility and benefits provided by additives and preservatives, and their necessity for having certain out-of-season products or extending their shelf life, all factors demanded by today’s consumers.

We cannot place all the responsibility on companies regarding food safety. If consumers are aware of following correct guidelines in their homes concerning food storage, cooking, and other good practices, many instances of cross-contamination and the growth of unwanted bacteria could be avoided, which are often still not well understood. According to the UNAE: “Statistics show that approximately half of food poisoning cases are caused by improper food handling at home and, in some cases, even by lack of hygiene.”

Traceability and transparency are elements that consumers are increasingly demanding, which provide security and confidence when purchasing a product. Knowing its origin, as well as the treatments and processes it has undergone, translated into language that is understandable to the consumer, is highly valued. These practices not only help in maintaining consumer trust but also enhance the accountability of food producers and suppliers, ensuring that standards are met and that any issues can be quickly traced back and addressed.

Market research methodologies to understand consumers and predict changes in habits and attitudes that could lead to food safety alerts

The most useful and efficient way to understand consumers is by gathering information about their habits and attitudes, both directly and indirectly. Through accurate interpretation of social listening on social media and digital channels, we can detect signals indicating a change in the behaviour of digital consumers.

This change in behaviour in certain variables indicates that something is occurring, and we need to investigate to understand the issue in depth, either to solve a problem or to seize an opportunity.

A very efficient methodology for understanding the true behaviour of consumers is through Co-creation Processes. With this methodology, we interact with the consumer in their real environment via our own online platform, getting closer to their homes without altering their attitudes through the use of non-invasive techniques. Digital platforms greatly assist in this type of research because they allow interaction with the consumer in a longitudinal and asynchronous manner. Undoubtedly, this is a tool that helps us connect with consumers, understand them better, and analyse their purchasing decisions and product evaluations.

In market research, there are numerous tools capable of collecting opinions and habits of consumers to detect preferences and provide an x-ray of the current situation, as well as attempting to predict future events.

At AINIAFORWARD, we employ the most innovative methodologies for conducting market research that enable us to understand consumers, their habits, customs, opinions, and perceptions, always placing the consumer at the core of our research, shifting from a product-focused view to a consumer-focused view. As we explained in our article “Why is a Consumer Focus Strategy Essential? Innovation from the Consumer’s Perspective,” this strategy is crucial for implementing innovation strategies or improvements in products, because it bases any strategy on the perceptions, habits, and attitudes of the end consumers.

Our own Social Listening tools, to detect trends and perceptions about brands and products on social media and digital channels, and new methodologies like Mission Control to understand the shopping and consumption experience of consumers in real life through a mobile app, are some of the tools used by AINIAFORWARD to conduct its research.

We maintain our own R&D line in the development of new methodologies for analysing and interpreting consumer behaviour based on behavioural economics and design thinking. This research is supported by IVACE through a programme aimed at boosting R&D in technological institutes.

Cristina Jodar Marco (32 articles)

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Cristina Jodar Marco
AINIA Consumer

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