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Traceability: What influences consumers?

Via LinkedIn : Does traceability matter to consumers? It seems this is a question that constantly vexes food companies and other stakeholders. Even NGOs want to better understand what motivates consumer choice and how traceability influences it.

A recent yearlong international seafood study by the Global Food Traceability Center provides helpful insight that consumers do care about traceability.

The research revealed that traceability is more highly valued by businesses, regardless of their size, if they engage more often in highly collaborative activities with their suppliers and customers. This was useful knowledge for businesses; but they would really like to know what causes a consumer to choose one product over another?

In the same project, the GFTC conducted surveys in 5 nations to look into consumer perceptions about seafood and the key factors influencing their purchasing decisions. For example, while consumers may not know very much about how seafood is caught or produced, they sure expect that those who sell it will know. What do they think? The data suggest that at least seafood consumers think the industry can do better when it comes to transparency about specific attributes like product quality, freshness, and sustainability.

Based on its study, the GFTC incorporated survey findings from Canada, China, Germany, The Netherlands, and the United States into a Seafood Consumer Preference Tool that can be used to compare and contrast the consumer preferences in these countries. The tool provides a simple means to better see what traceability factors impact buying decisions consumers make about seafood. The tool (and the entire project report) can be accessed via the GFTC website (www.globalfoodtraceability.org).

The results are remarkable. One finding is that consumers value proof that the seafood they buy is actually what is advertised on the label or on the sign in the store or restaurant. Not a big surprise there. However, what is intriguing is consumers value more the proof that verifies their purchase was sustainably caught or farmed. For seafood companies that are considering the usefulness of traceability, it is clear that there is an opportunity that companies may be missing.

The surveys show that if consumers can trust the verification of sustainability claims (through traceability), seafood companies, retailers, and food service firms may capture additional market share or higher margins. The specific results vary from country to country and species to species; but the response is consistent.

Another insight from the surveys is that freshness is one of the top values sought by seafood consumers . And yet without knowing when it was harvested, or caught, or packaged, consumers are left to wonder if their fish is fresh. And how fresh is it? Again, verification of catch or packaging dates (using traceability) was shown to have a substantial influence on consumer decisions.

Perhaps average seafood consumers may not know much about traceability. But they are influenced by factors that are directly connected to having traceability in place all the way back to the source. It is the potential for better business results that will cause traceability to truly catch-on with companies.

So the question for food businesses is NOT whether consumers care about traceability, but how can a company convert a clear opportunity into sharper sustainability, quality and freshness claims and so drive up sales and profit?

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