Chinese consumers increasingly concerned about food safety

30 Nov 2020

Food safety is of growing concern for Chinese consumers and many do not fully trust on-pack claims such as organic. Supply chain certification is one way to win back trust, according to Lloyd’s Register.

A recent survey carried out by Lloyd’s Register, a certification body that conducts audits of Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarked standards, found that food safety and hygiene matters are a greater source of worry to Chinese consumers than before. Eighty-seven percent of individuals surveyed said they were more concerned about food safety now compared to one year ago while 76% have changed their eating or purchasing habits in the last 12 months due to a food safety scare.

Chinese consumers increasingly concerned about food safety

The biggest cause for concern was the use of artificial colours and flavours, which worried 78% of those questioned, while 56% were worried about finding foreign objects, such as metal or plastic, in a food or drink product – a high proportion of consumers that should ring alarm bells for the food supply chain, said the report authors.

Supermarkets also appear to be under more scrutiny from the public, with 90% of Chinese adults saying they expected to know the precise ingredients of all food products sold in supermarkets, compared to only 58.1% of Americans and 71.8% of Britons.

Nevertheless, the survey, which questioned over 1,000 consumers from across the country, also found high levels of doubt regarding on-pack claims. Eighty-seven percent said they were not fully confident that products labelled as organic are truly grown or reared using organic farming methods.

“It’s important to note that products can be labelled as ‘organic’ with or without certification. It also cannot be definitively said whether the consumer differentiates ‘labelled’ from ‘certified’,” Kimberly Carey Coffin, global technical director for supply chain assurance at Lloyd’s Register, told The Ingredients Network.

“However, most countries have labelling laws in place which mandate that producers hold a method of verification, and retain evidence, that can substantiate product claims, such as organic. Likewise, regulatory frameworks exist defining the requirements for the safe production of food and increasingly food safety certification is being recognised by many governments as a key verification mechanism. As such, certification is the primary way for companies to do this.

According to Carey Coffin, manufacturers should understand their own supply chains to reduce food safety risks.

“In addition to ensuring their own manufacturing sites adhere to best practice, those manufacturers who gain a clear understanding of their supply chain’s weak points and use technical expertise and intervention to mitigate risk, will find themselves well placed to avoid unwanted incidents […] and in turn help reassure consumers.”

No fear of wet markets

Although the exact origin of the COVID-19 virus remains unknown, scientific evidence suggests the source of transmission occurred at a wet market in Wuhan, where bats and wild animals were kept in close contact and sold for meat. Despite this, the vast majority of Chinese consumers surveyed by Lloyd’s Register (92%) said they would continue to buy groceries at wet markets in the coming year.

This was not surprising to Carey Coffin.

“Wet markets have historically been – and will continue to be – the foundation of food retail in Chinese culture. Seeing and feeling the products is seen to provide assurances that meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetables, and spices are fresh, unprocessed and from the direct source or origin. This is unlikely to change as they also allow greater choice when it comes to the size, cut, and quantity of produce.”

In order to prevent future health pandemics, scientists have called for a ban on the sale of exotic animals at wet markets as well as more research into the link between illicit trade and zoonotic disease transmission.

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