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Consumers are increasingly using the internet and mobile devices to obtain information about food, and are also more educated and confident about food safety, according to [pdf] a recent survey by Deloitte.

The “2010 Consumer Food Safety Survey,” Parts I [pdf] and II, measures US consumers’ food-related behaviors in regard to usage of the internet and mobile devices and awareness of food safety issues. Following is a brief review of results in each category.

Internet and Mobile Device Popularity Increases
Consumers are increasingly using online and mobile tools to obtain food product information and get pricing deals. In 2010:

  • 36% of consumers visited a food company’s website to get recipes, compared to 35% in 2008.
  • 33% of consumers received email/recipes/coupons from a food manufacturer/company, compared to 27% in 2008.
  • 23% of consumers visited a food company’s website to get product information, compared to 22% in 2008.
  • 23% of consumers made a food purchase as a result of something they read online, flat from 2008.

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In addition, 7% of consumers currently use their mobile phones while in the store to perform the following food-shopping activities:

  • 53% compare prices.
  • 44% get/redeem coupons/discounts.
  • 28% get nutritional information.
  • 22% read product reviews.
  • 22% visit the food company’s website for information.

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Among consumers who use their mobile phones to aid food shopping there is a distinct gender difference in how the mobile phone is used. Men tend to use their mobile phones for monetary reasons, as 59% of men and 49% of women compare prices and 53% of men and 38% of women get/redeem coupons and discounts. However, twice as many women (36%) as men (18%) use their mobile phones to obtain nutritional information.

Consumers Gain Food Safety Confidence
While more than half of consumers (65%) say they are more concerned about food safety today than five years ago, this percentage has come down significantly since 2008, when it stood at 76%. Thirty-five percent of consumers say they are not more concerned today than five years ago, up from 24% in 2008.

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This increase in food safety confidence may result from heightened consumer awareness of food safety information. In 2010:

  • 53% of consumers always or frequently read the list of ingredients on unfamiliar packaged/bottled food items, compared to 50% in 2008.
  • 59% of consumers feel they have enough information about the food they eat, compared to 58% in 2008.
  • 46% of consumers understand at least 75% of the ingredients on a packaged food item, compared to 41% in 2008.
  • 55% of consumers understand half or less of the ingredients on a packaged food item, compared to 59% in 2008.

In addition, 86% of consumers frequently or always check expiration dates, while only 12% rarely check them and 2% never check them. Another 54% frequently or always reference nutritional facts and another 26% occasionally reference them. Fifteen percent of consumers rarely reference nutritional facts and only 5% never do so.

However, consumers still have food concerns. The top five, ranked by percentage of consumers with this concern, are healthiness (49%), safety (36%), over-processed food (31%), possible use of chemical ingredients with detrimental effects to long-term health (29%), and use of high-fructose corn syrup (27%).

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When it comes to product recalls, most consumers (76%) think communicating product recall information should be the responsibility of the manufacturers, and 73% think government agencies such as the FDA should be responsible. Another 53% place responsibility on retailers, and 51% think the media should be responsible. Another 23% think consumer advocacy groups should spread the word on product recalls, and 19% place the responsibility on their own shoulders, naming consumers as responsible for this task.

Food-borne Illness Poses Consumer Concern
Four in ten (42%) Americans indicate they have become sick or ill during the past two years from what they attribute at least in part to something they ate, according to a recent Harris Poll from Harris Interactive. Sixty-nine percent of those who attribute an illness to a food item think they know what made them sick.

As a result, 26% of those who indicate they became sick from something they ate have eliminated that food from their diet entirely. Moreover, another 15% indicate that they advised family, friends and colleagues not to eat that food item, increasing the impact of their individual experience. Another 19% continue to eat the food item in question, and 10% have not eaten it again yet but plan to in the future.

About the Data: Deloitte commissioned an independent research company to poll 1,102 US consumers online between March 22-24, 2010.

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