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Expert Column: How Retailers Can Ease Consumers’ Ingredient Fears


All around the world, but especially here in the United States, brands and retailers are jostling to respond quickly to escalating consumer fears about potentially harmful ingredients in food and personal care products.

The examples are endless. CVS banned tobacco sales in its stores and, most recently, amped up its CVS health services to become America's biggest operator of health clinics. As of April 2015, Chipotle has phased out genetically modified ingredients from its food, and further disrupted the QSR world with naturally raised meat, organic produce and hormone-free diary for under $10.

Personal care products are no exception. Just walk the aisles of almost any grocery or convenience store aisle, and you’ll see a surprising proliferation of new organic skin care and cosmetics now available for purchase.

With headlines continuing to swirl about consumer demand for cleaner ingredient labels, more organic product choices, and total transparency in the supply chain, Daymon Worldwide sought out more information about how these fears were translating into retail-specific behaviors.

In June 2015, our Custom Shopper Insights team recruited 1,000 respondents, ages 18 and older,  to take an online survey regarding their greatest fears about specific ingredients in food and personal care products, and how those fears affected shopping behaviors and purchase decisions. The respondents, 50 percent male and 50 percent female, were nationally representative across U.S. regions, and half of them were parents.

According to the study results, 40 percent of consumers have lost their enjoyment of the foods they eat, due to safety and quality concerns, and many are actively seeking stores that offer product alternatives. Nearly twice as many parents as nonparents report these anxieties.

The study also revealed that products that manage, prevent and cure health ailments are having the greatest impact on consumer attitudes about food and personal care products. In fact, 53 percent of respondents said that their heightened fears are driving greater demand for food and personal care products with fewer ingredients and stricter guidelines.

Food Safety on the Menu

One-third of survey respondents are more concerned about food product safety and quality today than a year ago, and 50 percent are more concerned than five years ago. Specifically, consumers are fearful of the perceived harmful effect on their children's development due to the presence of MSG, high mercury levels, GMOs, dangerous bacteria and other additives.

Regardless of how realistic these fears may be, they're definitely affecting how consumers shop. In fact, most shoppers conduct extensive online research, avoid stores that offer products with perceived harmful ingredients and are willing to spend more items on fresh items considered to be healthier.

Retailers need to be ready to respond by providing confidence-inspiring product selections and meal solutions.

Personal Care Product Woes

Consumers also have significant fears about the chemicals and additives in personal care products. Topping the list of concerns are carcinogens, lead, pesticides and formaldehyde, all of which survey respondents believe may cause cancer or allergies, or be harmful to healthy child development.

Interestingly, respondents said they're more willing to visit a mass merchandiser or grocery store than a drug store to purchase personal care products without ingredients they perceive as harmful. This means that drug stores are going to have to change perceptions by increasing product communication, educating associates and generally making health and wellness a top priority.

Private-brand Opportunities

The good news is that huge opportunities exist for retailers ready to leverage their private brands to connect meaningfully with core consumers making purchase decisions based on ingredient fears.

Our study found that only 22 percent of consumers believe national brands to be healthier than private brands, which presents significant business potential for retailers ready to invest in their private brands.

In addition to teaming with suppliers to offer cleaner ingredient decks in private-brand product lines, all marketing communications about them need to be clear, concise and consistent. By making health and wellness an affordable choice for concerned consumers, savvy retailers and suppliers will establish trust that's well worth the investment.

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