HOUSTON — Consumers today are passionate about food — some because they want to be and others because they have to be — and it’s led to a culture of diligent label reading. Phil Lempert, consumer behavior analyst and “Supermarket Guru,” said it’s also led to an era of general mistrust by consumers, especially those who suffer from food allergies.
|Phil Lempert, consumer behavior analyst|
“Every time we see a survey coming out about consumer trends and how they feel about the food industry, we keep losing confidence, not gaining confidence,” Mr. Lempert said in a keynote address at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA)’s Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar and Expo, held June 5-7 in Houston. “We look at all the headlines taking place day after day about our food supply, and many of us just understand that we’re not communicating properly to consumers.”
Food allergies are a big driver for consumers’ hesitancy, Mr. Lempert said. In his white paper “Focus on Allergens: A Matter of Trust?” Mr. Lempert said research from an IDDBA / Supermarket Guru consumer study indicated more than 4 in 10 people surveyed have a food allergy or live in a household with someone who does.
“The reality is that these are serious issues that we need to address for the confidence and safety of our consumers,” he said.
In fact, he said that while roughly 2% of the total U.S. population has a doctor-diagnosed food allergy, Stanford University has predicted the rate will double approximately every 10 years. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control said food allergies among children ages 0 to 17 increased 18% from 1997 to 2007.
“We need, as an industry, to get behind it not only to develop more allergen-free products,” Mr. Lempert asserted, “but also asking, ‘How do we deal with (allergens) at retail?’ ”
Mr. Lempert said that while there are many opportunities at the store level to increase education among staff and communication between retailers and shoppers, there are also implications for the food manufacturers, as well. He suggested increasing ingredient listing availability for products sold in the in-store bakery and deli areas, as well as increasing font size and typeface of packaged products.
If food manufacturers want to boost credibility with consumers, he said, communication is key. Today, people want to — and often need to — understand what is in their food. For many, their health is depending on it, he said, adding that implementing changes is the way to regain trust among consumers at both the product and store level.“This is not a fad; it’s not even a trend,” he said. “It’s reality.”