COVID-19 Raises Consumers’ Packaged Food Concerns

By Rick Lingle in Food Safety on May 18, 2020

A study by G&S Business Communication found that 69% of Americans said they were more concerned about food safety than they were a few months ago.

 

Sustainability has for years been the key driver for material suppliers and food packaging manufacturers, but COVID-19 has pushed another long-held food priority back to the forefront — safety. It’s a double serving of safety concern, both for the food and for the packaged food.

According to a recent consumer intelligence snap poll from G&S Business Communications, 69% of Americans said they were more concerned about food safety than they were a few months ago — an insight that creates a window of opportunity for those in the food packaging industry.

With 44% of Americans saying they now clean their food packaging with a disinfectant, it’s clear that the packaging supply chain should elevate safety to the same level of importance as sustainability across all messaging. COVID-19 has created greater consumer awareness and with that comes the demand for greater transparency, as well as reassurance that the packaging surrounding the food consumers eat is doing its job.

Key findings:

  • 54% of Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned about contracting the coronavirus through the food they eat;
  • 95% of Americans agree it is at least somewhat important for companies to communicate the safety measures they are taking to ensure customer safety;
  • 65% said that research indicating food and packaging are unlikely to spread the coronavirus would prove reassuring.

Americans say all types of people or organizations across the food supply chain should proactively communicate to the public about how they are keeping our food supply safe including: grocery stores (83%), restaurants (75%), food processing facilities (68%), food packaging companies (66%), food shipping companies (56%), and farms and ranches (45%).

G&S Managing Director – Chicago, Brian Hall, responds to Packaging Digest’s questions about the timely study.

 

Summarize why and how the information was gathered.

Hall: We’ve all seen the tremendous stress on the supply chain in the past few weeks. We recognized an opportunity to inform the food, agribusiness, and supply chain industries about how Americans are changing their attitudes and behaviors due to the coronavirus through a Consumer Intelligence Snap Poll. This G&S snap poll was fielded on April 17, 2020, with a representative US sample of 1,058 adults, ages 18+. The sample has been balanced for age and gender using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States.

 

What was most surprising result?

Hall: There is an unprecedented level attention being placed on the safety of food and food packaging. Two out of three Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned about contracting COVID-19 through food packaging.

Additionally, nearly a third of consumers (31%) say they are making changes to where they purchase food and groceries.

With all the uncertainty, the concern around packaging safety is likely to stick with shoppers well beyond the COVID-19 outbreak and impact purchasing decisions. Consumers are taking extra precaution when bringing food and food packaging into their homes; 47% of Americans say they are spending more time washing their produce when they return home from the grocery store; and 24% say they are washing with a disinfectant. Meanwhile, 44% say they are cleaning food packaging with a disinfectant.

What other questions were asked?

Hall: The survey also explored consumer sentiment on the safety and availability of food itself. Compared to a few months ago, a majority of Americans say they are more concerned about food availability (77%), food safety (69%), food affordability (58%), food waste (55%), and food quality (52%).

Moreover, these concerns are directly rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic: More than half (54%) of Americans say they are at least somewhat concerned about contracting the coronavirus through the food they eat. What consumers want now is reassurance: Nearly three quarters (74%) would feel reassured knowing about safety protocols at grocery stores. Further upstream, consumers say they would feel reassured about food safety if they learned about safety protocols put in place at food processing plants (70%), food transport and storage (57%), and on farms (41%). A majority (65%) of Americans say that research indicating food and packaging are unlikely to spread the coronavirus would also prove reassuring.

 

What specific advice do you have for packaging industry stakeholders?

Hall: In the near-term, the entire packaging supply chain should continue to help share the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that help consumers understand how to appropriately handle food products and food packaging during this pandemic. Longer-term there will be a crucial need and opportunity to elevate messaging regarding the safety delivered by food packaging. Communication and transparency are essential. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say stakeholders in the food packaging industry should proactively communicate the actions they are taking to secure a safe and quality supply.

 

Anything else to mention that’s not apparent?
Hall: Sustainability in food packaging has driven conversation in the industry for the past several years, but looking ahead, packaging producers will have to navigate how to assure business partners and consumers alike how they are enhancing food safety while still meeting important sustainability goals.

 

You read more about the study in this blog.

Rick Lingle

Rick Lingle is senior technical editor of Packaging Digest. He’s been a packaging media journalist since 1985 specializing in food, beverage and plastic markets. He has a chemistry degree and has worked in food industry R&D for Standard Brands/Nabisco and the R.T. French Co. Reach him at [email protected] or 630-481-1426.

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