What do Europeans really think about the food system? Do they have confidence in the integrity of food products, including in their authenticity, health, safety, and sustainability?
In June 2020, EIT Food – part of the EU body the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) – commissioned a survey to find out.
More than 19,900 consumers took part in the study from 18 European countries: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the UK.
The survey was conducted by Ipsos, and the study undertaken by the University of Reading, the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), Aarhus University, KU Leuven, and the University of Warsaw.
Trust in the food sector
Compared to EIT Food’s 2018 report, consumer trust in all parts of the food sector has increased, along with their confidence in food products, by between 3% and 8%.
Findings revealed that within the food sector, farmers were chosen as the most trusted group by European consumers. Specifically, two-thirds (67%) reported that they trust farmers, compared to just 13% that do not.
Following farmers, retailers were deemed to be the second most trusted group, with 53% of consumers expressing their trust. This demonstrates an increase of 7% since 2018, which the report suggests could potentially be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ‘gratitude felt by some to the sector’ for maintaining food supplies and access.
On the flip side, trust in government agencies (47%) and food manufacturers (46%) has ‘lagged behind’. And more than a quarter of consumers say they actively distrust government authorities (29%) and food manufacturers (26%).
“The events of 2020 have shown many consumers how vital our food infrastructure is, ranging from keeping products on supermarket shelves to considering how our food production impacts the environment,” said Saskia Nuijten, Director of Communication and Public Engagement at EIT Food.
“As we look to our economic recovery in the coming year, helping to build trust between consumers and the food sector will be critical to improving food for everyone.”
Trust in food products
Concerning consumer trust in food products themselves, findings revealed that shoppers believe food safety has improved: fifty-five percent of consumers agree that food is generally safe (compared to 47% in 2018). This figure increased to 74% in the UK.
It appears shoppers are looking for healthy food, with 70% claiming they choose healthy options over unhealthy where possible. Yet just 43% believe that food products are generally healthy.
The survey also revealed consumer distrust in food quality, with just 40% saying they have confidence that the food products they buy are generally authentic, rather than fake or artificial.
From an environmental standpoint, shoppers’ revealed doubts in the sustainability credentials of food products produced across the bloc. Just 30% said they are confident that food products are generally produced in a sustainable way, whereas 42% said they consider them to be unsustainable.
This, EIT Food noted, is at odds with consumer values. Three-quarters (76%) of Europeans reported they feel a moral obligation to use environmentally friendly products, while 60% say they opt for sustainable goods over unsustainable goods when given the choice.
This, the EU body suggested, demonstrates a ‘clear opportunity’ to match consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products.
“The EIT Food Trust Report shows that there are clear opportunities for the food industry to demonstrate how it is acting in the public interest and meet consumer demand regarding health and sustainability,” said Klaus Grunert, Department of Management at Aarhus University.