A new survey of American consumers provides some potentially surprising findings that indicate American food shoppers are very mindful about what they place into their shopping carts, and it's not just about price and taste.
While food commercials on television constantly bombard Americans with offerings that focus on price-point and convenience, a 2014 survey by Cone Communications found that people care about where their food comes from and how it is produced. In a poll of more than 1,000 people from a broad cross-section of the shopping public, 77 percent of respondents said sustainability was an important factor in deciding what to buy, while 74 percent said buying locally was a significant factor.
Understandably, food safety is something that 93 percent of shoppers consider very, or somewhat, important when making food purchasing decisions, slightly outweighing concerns over nutritional value (92 percent). Interestingly, though, while 74 percent of consumers indicated buying locally is a consideration in making decisions, fewer, at 54 percent, said buying organic is a consideration. Evidently shoppers are prepared to spend extra dollars to support their "buy-local" sensibilities, with 66 percent of those surveyed saying they would pay more, and sacrifice variety, in order to purchase locally-produced foods. The top reason provided for buying locally is that people want to support local businesses and communities, which they deem more important than the potential environmental or health benefits of doing the same.
Another of the study's findings is that despite industry resistance to labeling genetically modified (GMO) foods, consumers want to see companies step up their level of transparency about how food is produced. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed said they wished companies would disclose information and educate consumers about GMOs in their products -- especially as 55 percent of people didn't know whether GMOs were good or bad for them, and 51 percent didn't understand what GMO food is.
Though sustainability is important for more than three-quarters of American shoppers, with 81 percent keen to see more food options that protect the environment, when those surveyed were asked to select their top concern in making purchasing decisions, sustainability didn't trump other priorities. Fifty-four percent picked family satisfaction -- that is, what products their family most enjoys eating -- as the most important thing; 41 percent picked health and nutrition, while sustainability was selected as the top concern by only 5 percent.
The Cone Communications study is available to download online, and it seems that there is a substantial opportunity here for advocates of sustainably-produced foods to tap into an underlying consumer concern about health and the environment in food production. Yet with only a few consumers placing sustainability as their top concern, coupled with a powerful agricultural and food industry lobby, how easy do you think it will be to make sure the sustainability preference is met?
Image Credit: Paulo Ordoveza
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Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.