#10things on food safety in the pandemic

The FMCG industry needs to address the growing dilemma around food safety and the environment.

Recent research by FMCG packaging company, Tetra Pak, revealed that food safety concerns around food packaging is higher than concern around sustainable packaging to save the environment, at present due to COVID-19. The global research study in partnership with Ipsos also confirmed that food safety and sustainable packaging remain major issues for society: “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the status quo, accelerated trends, and created a new landscape of consumer needs and opportunities for companies to build on. In particular, the industry needs to address the growing dilemma around food safety and the environment, stepping up towards the twin goals of meeting the human need for food while protecting our planet’s ecosystem. This is where food packaging can play a strong role in bringing about harmony,” the study read.

As Adolfo Orive, president and CEO of Tetra Pak, wrote: “Not surprisingly, COVID-19 is the number one concern for consumers worldwide, evidenced in our recent global research. Against this backdrop, economic worries have seen a sharp upturn, reflecting widespread uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic on the economy, particularly employment. Interestingly however, food safety has quickly moved up the list of consumer priorities. It is now seen as a major issue for society by more than two-thirds of respondents. Consumers believe that improving food safety is not only the responsibility of manufacturers, it needs to be their first priority. And with dwindling trust levels, consumers are looking for transparency and reassurance that this priority is being addressed. Many now say they want to know everything they can about a product’s provenance and production process – highlighting a communication opportunity for brands.

“At the same time, concern for the environment remains strikingly powerful. True, it has been relegated to the number two spot of global consumer concerns by COVID-19. But it is still substantially ahead of everything else, with more than two-thirds of consumers believing that we must change our habits quickly to mitigate further environmental impact. In this context, sustainable packaging remains key, rated a top expectation from manufacturers by more than half of respondents.”

These are the 10 things worth noting from the study:

1. Food safety: More than two-thirds of respondents listed food safety as their top concern, just ahead of environmental sustainability. The Tetra Pak Index, in its 13th edition, has seen in just one year, a 10 percentage point leap in global concern about food safety and future food supplies, from 30% in 2019 to 40%. In addition, more than 50% of consumers regard improving food safety as being the single biggest responsibility of manufacturers.

2. Environmental concern: Concern for the environment remains strikingly powerful, pointing to the dilemma in consumers’ minds as they seek to balance the critical priorities of human existence through safe food with the sustainability of food packaging entering the the planet’s waste stream.

3. Health: According to this year’s research, health is deeply connected to heightened issues of food safety, hygiene and packaging: with 60% of consumers globally expressing concern that the food they buy is hygienic and safe.

4. Food waste: Another key issue that has been highlighted by COVID-19 is food waste. Globally, 77% of consumers see food waste as a key challenge. The Tetra Pak Index 2020 highlights that packaging entering waste streams is not the only environmental concern, but also food waste. Consumers cite food waste reduction as a top environmental issue that they themselves can have major influence over. However, confusing labelling is a barrier, offering brands a chance for better communication. When asked which global issues they believed they could have an impact on as individuals, 47% chose “preventing food waste”. As a result, consumers will increasingly look for transparency throughout the supply chain to reassure them that the food waste challenge is being addressed. This has long been a global challenge. According to a study conducted for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one-third of food produced for human consumption goes to waste – recovering just half of that would be enough to feed the world. Food loss and waste in industrialised countries are as high as in developing countries, but their distribution is different. In developing countries, more than 40% of food losses happen after harvest and during processing. In industrialised countries, more than 40% occurs at the retail and consumer level. In the EU, households generate more than half of the total food waste (47 million tonnes) with 70% of food waste arising in households, food service and retail.

5. Health products: The global pandemic has escalated an already growing trend for health products, especially immunity-boosting food and drink. Interest was already high in functional products – with consumers searching for terms such as “digestive health” and “brain health” – but recently people have shifted significantly towards searches on products and ingredients that can boost the immune system. According to research by Mintel, the COVID-19 outbreak has prompted 45% of consumers in Europe to add more nutrients to their diet, while 29% reported being more interested in foods that can support the immune system since the start of the pandemic. Google Trends data also shows an approximate 500% increase in searches for immunity in food and drink worldwide.

6. Food supply chain: Many consumers now think twice about the hygiene and sanitation procedures involved in processing, transporting and preparing their food. Our social media research found high consumer concern about limiting virus transmission through food handling and packaging, particularly at the start of the pandemic. Moreover, 59% say they tend to worry about the food they buy being hygienic and safe. Health, a leading consumer concern for a long time, is now bound up with these heightened issues of food safety and hygiene, with 67% of consumers agreeing that being healthy is being safe. This is particularly true in China, where 80% of respondents connect healthy food with food that is safe – rather than with food that is nutritious.

7. Packaging safety: Generally, a lid/cap is important to consumers, with half saying they feel reassured if a product has one. Moreover, 58% cite that ensuring a package is kept well-closed after opening helps keep food safe – further demonstrating the importance of a resealable/reclosable lid/cap.

8. Technology aids: There are also opportunities for “connected packages” that allow consumers to scan an on-pack QR code or similar to access a wealth of online information about the product’s provenance, environmental credentials, recycling points and so forth, or to access engaging or other value-added content. While consumers in some markets have been slow to adopt such scanning, this has changed rapidly in the COVID-19 “touch-free” era, with proliferating codes now widely used to access digital menus in restaurants, register for track and trace systems and so forth.

9. Labelling is key: There is a significant “say/do” gap when it comes to how consumers actually behave when it comes to food waste – and labelling is seen as a culprit here. In the survey, 39% of global consumers say they throw away food because the “best before” date has passed, even if it doesn’t smell or look bad; and 30% would “never” consider consuming a product after its expiry date – a further 36% would only do so for certain products.

10. Food production needs: The world population is predicted to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, requiring the production of 70% more food in the world by then.


Main image credit: Photo by Agenlaku Indonesia on Unsplash.


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