Legacy of distrust stays with consumers post-horsegate

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food industry, Traffic light labelling, Sugar, Food

Scandals such as horsegate have had a lasting effect on consumers, according to Trace One
Scandals such as horsegate have had a lasting effect on consumers, according to Trace One
Almost two thirds of consumers said their trust in the food industry remained damaged more than a year since the horsemeat scandal first made headlines, according to an exhaustive survey.

The survey, conducted by TNS Omnibus on behalf of own-label software solutions firm TraceOne, quizzed 2,298 UK adults aged 16 and above. A total of 63% said their trust in the food industry had been dented by the so-called horsegate controversy, as well as other food labelling slip-ups.

As a result, 83% of respondents demanded increased transparency and information about food products to be more confident of their origin and their ingredients.

“Consumers are growing increasingly savvy, and their message to the food industry is clear: if you don’t give us the information we need, how can we trust you?”​ said Nick Martin, senior vice president, Northern Europe at Trace One. Pressure from shoppers for better labelling was only likely to increase over time, he believed.

‘Collaborate and communicate’

“Retailers, manufacturers and suppliers should be able to collaborate and communicate and know exactly what is in their products, where it came from and at what stage it was added. While sharing all of this with consumers might seem like a flood of data, it’s better to be as open as possible rather than appearing to hold back potentially crucial facts.”

It was not just a question of conveying correct information, but of making it relevant and simple to understand, Martin told FoodManufacture.co.uk. “There’s confusing labelling for things like traffic light labelling, which is still not enabling customers to make the right decisions … For fat and sugar content, a percentage is fine, but what does that mean for me?”

Shoppers said the information they were most interested in, which was most likely to influence their purchasing decisions, was health and nutrition data, covering aspects including calorie counts and fat content. Six out of 10 listed this as the first or second most important thing on a label.

Sugar content just pipped fat content in order of significance, with 52% reporting sugar was the most important, versus 48% for fat.

Ethical considerations were listed as the least important, with just 9% of those surveyed claiming they mattered the most on a label and almost half (49%) placing them last or second from last.

Information overkill

However, according to the information provided, there could be such a thing as information overkill. Almost two thirds of shoppers (64%) said they believed allergen labelling had been overused and as a result had become largely meaningless.

“While the industry is bound by law to include allergy information, it needs to use food labelling to clearly state the exact reason for any warning, so consumers can understand the precise risks they face and make an informed judgement,”​ said Martin.

In the case of allergen labelling, Martin said consumers were demanding: “Tell me why that’s an issue, what that means for me – do I even know what an allergen is?

“More broadly, the industry needs to be sure it is giving consumers what they want and need … In order to do this we need collaboration and transparency across the industry, from the farm to the factory to the shop shelf. Only with this can retailers be certain that they are attracting customers and securing their trust.”

For more on the aftermath of the horsemeat scandal, take a look at Food Manufacture’s big debate​ on the issue at this year’s Foodex trade show.

Food Manufacture is inviting all its readers to participate in its industry survey​, assessing a range of issues from the impact of the economy to the effects of horsegate.

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