UK consumer confidence in the global food supply chain is dwindling following a number of high profile food fraud scandals, a new survey has found.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) Mutual Food Fraud Report 2017, which surveyed 2027 people, found that one third of consumers were less trusting of products and retailers than they were five years ago, compared with only 9 per cent whose trust has increased.
Indeed, the research showed that almost nine out of ten people had lost confidence in the global supply chain and 42 per cent were concerned about food fraud, with a third believing food crime will increase in the future.
High profile cases of food fraud scandals in the media, such as the 2013 horse meat scandal, are the most common cause of reduced confidence in nearly half of consumers (46 per cent).
"The power of the news and internet is ever exposing the food industry to criticism, supersizing distrust and chipping away at consumer confidence," Frank Woods, retail specialist at NFU Mutual, said in the report's introduction.
But prevalence – perceived or real – was also a concern impacting consumer trust. According to the report findings, 27 per cent of those surveyed said they had personally experienced at least one issue relating to food fraud such as hidden ingredients in food, misleading labelling or swapped ingredients. Seventy-two percent believe there to be an issue with food fraud in the UK, while 38 per cent believe there to be an issue with criminally counterfeit or fake branded food products.
While media reports are the main reason for reduced confidence, 25 per cent also said they lacked trust in big corporations and 19 per cent had a lack of trust in the supply chain as a whole. Although, 38 per cent are relatively confident in the British supply chain in comparison with foreign supply chains.
Producers were blamed for products mishaps by 63 per cent of consumers, with the finger being pointed at retailers by 20 per cent of those surveyed, while distributors/transporters were seen as the culprits by 9 per cent of the public, and the grower or farmer blamed for fraud by just 6 per cent.
Levels of trust are also affected by the types of outlet that serve the food. Takeaways and online sellers have the most work to do to enhance consumer confidence, the report said.
When asked about what they believe to be the driving factors behind instances of food fraud, cutting costs was revealed as the most likely perceived reason (37 per cent), followed by organised crime (19 per cent), poor control methods (18 per cent) and imported goods (13 per cent).
In terms of trust by features and benefits, the biggest issues that affected trust levels were far-fetched claims about a product's benefits (40 per cent), label text in a different language (40 per cent), poor quality packaging (34 per cent), unknown brand (33 per cent), and sparse labelling or text (28 per cent).
Meanwhile, some foods that can be most susceptible to food fraud such as herbs and spices, olive oil and shellfish were found to be relatively unharmed by reputational issues in comparison with processed foods (35 per cent) and red meat (18 per cent).
The report also found that 40 per cent of consumers worry about illness from substandard food or inedible substances, 32 per cent about illness from unidentified allergens and 31 per cent are most concerned with quality and taste. In addition, 77 per cent said they would not know how to spot a counterfeit product.
Meanwhile, the food supply challenges associated with Brexit also appear to weigh heavily on consumer's minds with 27 per cent of people concerned about how Brexit will affect the UK food industry. This was particularly seen with the backlash over suggestions that cheaper GM foods and chlorinated chicken from the United States might become regulars on shop shelves after Brexit, Woods said.
Twenty-six percent of those surveyed said they had more confidence in products with a short, local supply chain, suggesting British grown and made products could do well after Brexit, he added.
Darren Seward, food and drink and hospitality specialist at NFU Mutual, said: "With Brexit looming, business owners should familiarise themselves with its potential effects and the vulnerabilities they may be exposed to, to safeguard against potential unexpected consequences such as increased import costs that may encourage alternative – and less secure – means of supply. The prospect of deregulation once Britain leaves the EU is already a concern for consumers and businesses should consider how any changes they make to perceived quality of food may be under the microscope."
The report recommended that businesses understand how they were perceived and to take action to improve confidence, such as clear and transparent labelling, promoting regular audits, and investing in corporate social responsibility initiatives and consumer education.
The full report can be found at: https://www.nfumutual.co.uk/foodfraud