Affluent Shoppers Will Pay More for Safe, Healthy Food: Survey

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Affluent Shoppers Will Pay More for Safe, Healthy Food: Survey

A new national survey of more affluent consumers from strategic marketing communications firm Context Marketing, “Beyond Organic -- How Evolving Consumer Concerns Influence Food Purchases,” has found that most respondents are highly concerned about the safety of the food they buy and would pay more for food they believe to be safer or healthier. The research also found that assurances about what a food doesn’t contain, such as pesticides or antibiotics, matter a great deal to these consumers, along with ethical claims that reinforce quality and safety perceptions.

Containing research recently conducted by Context Marketing and Doylestown, Pa.-based MRops, Inc. among consumers who fit the demographics for specialty grocery shoppers, “Beyond Organic” spotlights which food quality claims are most important to these shoppers.

According to the report, 57 percent of respondents said they were “definitely” or “very concerned” about the safety of the U.S. food supply, with another 39 percent “slightly” or “somewhat” concerned.” Only 4 percent said they had no concerns about food safety.

When asked to evaluate a range of food quality claims often found on food packages or at point of sale, respondents said that the claims they found most meaningful had to do with items not found in the foods, including pesticides, antibiotics, mercury and artificial hormones. Consumers rated claims such as “organic,” “free-range” and “grass fed” as less important. The survey didn’t ask about nutritional claims.

While respondents confirmed that low price is a major influence on most food purchases, 60 percent said they would pay up to 10 percent more for food they think is healthier, safer or produced according to higher ethical standards, and 14 percent said they would pay a premium greater than 10 percent.

Ethical claims are also important, although, alone, they may not impel most shoppers to buy a food product, according to Bob Kenney, principal of Context Marketing, which is located in the San Francisco Bay area. “Many consumers see ethical claims as part of a cluster of brand or product attributes they find reassuring,” noted Kenney. “As such, ethical claims provide credibility for other claims a company makes about product quality or safety.”

He added that 70 percent of respondents said that whether a company or brand acts ethically influences their decision to buy a product, and 48 percent said they stopped buying a brand when they found out the supplier acted in a way they deemed socially irresponsible or unethical.

The September 2009 online survey included 600 working adults between the ages of 20 and 64, equally representing women and men living in major U.S. markets. Almost all of the respondents had at least some college education, and 64 percent had earned a college degree or higher. Fifty percent had a yearly household income of $75,000 or higher.

A copy of the report can be downloaded