FOOD AND HEALTH ESSENTIALS

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The importance of food safety: The TÜV SÜD Safety Gauge report

For consumers around the world, access to safe and nutritious food is an essential requirement for maintaining their overall health and well-being. Accordingly, food producers make significant investments to ensure the safety of their food products and to reduce the risks associated with consumer exposure to contaminated or unsafe foods. Producer efforts to provide safe food can impact every aspect of the entire sourcing and production supply chain, and represent an important component of the total expenditures related to food production. 

But how do producer efforts measure up when it comes to consumers’ opinions and attitudes about food safety? How does the origin of food products affect consumers’ beliefs about whether a particular food product is safe to eat? What is the impact of food safety recalls on consumer buying habits? Most important, are consumers willing to pay a higher price for food that has been evaluated for safety by an independent third-party?

The TÜV SÜD Safety Gauge is an independent study to evaluate consumer and business attitudes and experiences regarding product safety practices, first conducted in 2012 and most recently in 2016. The Safety Gauge Food Segment report reveals the increasing importance of food safety to consumers around the world, as well as their views about producer efforts to improve food safety. This article discusses the results of the most recent Safety Gauge Food Segment report and the implications of the study’s findings for food producers.

Safety Gauge study background

The TÜV SÜD Safety Gauge study was conducted in 2016 by an independent market research firm to develop a better understanding of the state of safety around the world. Study research was conducted among consumers and business professionals in top-tier cities across the U.S., Germany, China and India. These four markets collectively represent almost half (46.6 percent) of worldwide Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Study data was collected from surveys of over 3500 consumers and more than 600 decision-makers directly involved in safety and quality issues in their respective companies.

Key findings from the study

Our Safety Gauge Food Segment report confirmed a number of trends regarding consumer attitudes about the safety of food, as well as the state of food safety best practices among participants in the food industry. Here are some of the study’s key findings:

  • Consumers want safer food — Food safety remains a key concern among consumers. Of those surveyed, nearly 7 in every 10 consumers rated product safety as “very important,” consistent with the findings of our 2012 study. Further, almost 75 percent of survey respondents said that food safety will be a “very important” consideration for them in the future.
  • And they are willing to pay for it — Consumers in every market surveyed overwhelmingly expressed their willingness to pay more for food products that have been verified by third-parties as compliant with voluntary food safety standards. Approximately 80 percent of all consumers surveyed indicated their willingness to pay a premium for foods that have been verified safe, with more than 90 percent of consumers in China and India willing to pay more for safe foods.  Ironically, only 75 percent of business leaders surveyed believe that consumers are willing to pay more.
  • Food safety best practices have been widely adopted by the industry — Compared with other industries, the food industry remains in a leader in the widespread adoption of important practices to help ensure the safety of their products. Best practices include staff training, in-house testing, using trusted suppliers, third-party testing, process and product certification, and an emphasis on safety throughout the product design and development process.
  • The most important measures to ensure food safety — According to survey respondents, the most important practices in ensuring food safety are:
    • using preferred suppliers (79 percent of respondents);
    • third-party inspections (61 percent of respondents);
    • and on-site visits (51 percent).

It is also important to note that food businesses are significantly more likely to used third-party inspections, compared with businesses in other industries.

  • Supply chain transparency will be integral to food safety in the future — Finally, business respondents to our survey identified “supply chain transparency” as an essential factor in defining food safety in the next five years. This result reflects the growing importance and complexity of food supply chains, and an increasing awareness of assuring food safety at the source.

Implications for the food industry

The TÜV SÜD Safety Gauge Food Segment study results point to three specific areas where producers can improve the safety of their food products, as follows:

  • Apply a “farm-to-fork” approach to food safety — As noted above, the modern supply chain is extremely complicated. Unlike 15 years ago, corporations seek efficiencies not only through direct suppliers but suppliers’ suppliers and often even further down the supply chain. This has made supply chain management from farm to fork even more challenging for the food industry.  However, traceability is critical to speed up recall process and reduce scope of contamination for the food industry.
  • Leverage the value of third-party testing and certification — There is a gap between the value that consumers place on third-party product testing and certification and the importance that food producers place on testing and certification. Only 60 percent of business respondents report using third-party testing and certification services, even though the overwhelming majority of consumers indicate their preference for food products that have been independently tested and certified before being placed on the market. Product testing and certification by food producers helps to ensure the safety of food products, demonstrates a producer’s commitment to food safety, and fulfils consumers’ expectations.
  • Focus on prevention, not damage control — Reacting to a food safety issue after the fact is always less effective than preventing the safety issue from occurring in the first place. Prevention can be best achieved when food safety and quality are seen as strategic business objectives that can also contribute directly to improved financial performance. The high cost of food product recalls is clear evidence of the importance and value of seeing food safety as an essential business goal for every food producer.

Food producers are working hard to improve the safety of their products. The findings of the TÜV SÜD Safety Gauge Food Segment study indicate that food producers share similar challenges regarding their food safety efforts. Consumers will unquestionably continue to demand that food producers comply with the highest possible food safety standards. The only question is whether food producers will provide them with the assurances of food safety that they seek. In the end, food producers that master these challenges not only reduce risk to consumers but also add genuine value to their products, thereby making them more attractive in a competitive marketplace.

The complete report on TÜV SÜD Safety Gauge Food Segment study is available here.

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