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FROM THE EDITOR: Focus on Quality

Focus on quality


The University of Guelph
recently published a study on how consumers have changed their eating
habits after the listeriosis outbreak that occurred this summer and
early fall.

The University of Guelph recently published a study on how consumers have changed their eating habits after the listeriosis outbreak that occurred this summer and early fall.

What wasn’t known prior to the study was how the outbreak and subsequent recall of meat products had affected consumer confidence and purchasing habits.

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Using what’s known as the “Guelph Food Panel” – a panel of 2,000 participants between the ages of 20 and 69, a “representative” sample of the population of the city of Guelph – researchers from the university’s International Food Economy Research Group (InFERG) surveyed consumers regarding their awareness, concerns and changes in consumption patterns following the outbreak.

One of the researchers, said that before the recall, consumers on average did not consider the potential risks of ready-to-eat meats to be significant. However, following the outbreak and recall, the proportion of consumers who said they never consume ready-to-eat meats increased by 33 per cent, and the proportion of those who said they never consume ready-to-eat meat products in fast-food restaurants/outlets increased by 47 per cent.

The panel also examined “behaviour-related” attitudes, and the results were as follows:

  •     30 per cent have stopped buying ready-to-eat meats from Canada;
  •     27 per cent now eat less often at restaurants and fast-food outlets;
  •     52 per cent are paying more attention to food labels;
  •     32 per cent are cooking more food at home;
  •     30 per cent are taking more time in food preparation.

Interestingly, 75 per cent of those surveyed said they still consider ready-to-eat meats safe to eat. Also, despite apparent changes in behaviour, most consumers remain confident in Canada’s food safety system.  Nearly 70 per cent of the consumers surveyed said that their perception of the safety of meat in general, of food products and food as a whole has not changed since the outbreak and recall occurred.
While this latter result is positive news, the study results overall are a staunch reminder that quality should be a key focus for food production.

In comparison with pork and beef, poultry made up a minimal proportion of the recall in question.  However, poultry products are a significant proportion of ready-to-eat products in deli cases in supermarkets as well as fast-food restaurants.  That’s why it’s imperative that consumer confidence in meat is maintained.

On the agendas of many of the upcoming conferences and meetings for the poultry industry (as well as the red meat industries) in North America this winter, I’ve noticed that producing for quality is on the schedule. This is not only essential for keeping consumer faith, but as the world suffers through a massive economic downturn, consumers will be keeping the purse strings tight. Money will be spent wisely on food, and quality for the money will definitely be top of mind.

The responsibility of producing quality food products isn’t solely on the shoulders of the food industry.  In fact, it’s been shown time and time again in studies such as the one discussed earlier that farmers have the best image with consumers and are seen as the “gatekeepers” of food safety and quality. Let’s not let them down.