Consumer trust in UK food falls as cost of living rises

YouGov research shows consumer trust in supermarket food has dropped 20% in just one year
04 August 2022 , By Steve Smethurst

The cost of living crisis is prompting a change in buying behaviours, while CIEH says reductions in standards are being reported by EHPs since local authorities resumed food inspections

New research from YouGov commissioned by Red Tractor has revealed a significant drop in consumer trust, with food seeing a marked deterioration over the past 12 months.

The food-chain assurance scheme’s survey saw more than 3,500 adults questioned across the UK. The results showed that trust in food has declined by 8% overall. However, supermarket food took a much bigger hit.

Last year, 78% of people said they trusted the safety and quality of food purchased from supermarkets. This year, only 58% said the same.

The swing in trust comes as almost half (46%) of people say they are changing what they buy to feed their families as rising prices start to bite. Almost a third (30%) are buying less meat and around a quarter of shoppers (24%) say they are trading down, buying what they perceive to be food produced to lower food safety and animal welfare standards.

The cost of living crisis has been highlighted by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), which has found that a quarter of people (26%) have friends or family struggling to pay their bills, while more than one in 10 people currently know friends or family at risk of food poverty or who are having to use a food bank.

“The food industry must tackle this issue before the drop in trust becomes toxic”.

Red Tractor was keen to stress that the UK is one of the most regulated countries in the world. Chair, Christine Tacon said it was no surprise that confidence had fallen, given the impact of the war in Ukraine and the rising inflation, but that a lack of food confidence was an “unfounded fear”.

“If shoppers buy assured British food, the strict regulations on food safety, animal welfare and other aspects of food production apply equally to value ranges as they do to premium products,” she said. But she felt the food industry “must tackle this before the drop in trust becomes toxic”.

Professor Susan Jebb, Chair of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) added that work at the FSA enables people to have confidence that the food they buy, whether from value or premium ranges, meets the same standards for food safety. She said that the FSA supports schemes like Red Tractor which “provide further assurances.” 

However, Kate Thompson, Director of CIEH Wales said that reference to the UK being one of the most regulated countries in the world was unhelpful without additional context. She said: “While the cost of living and the war in Ukraine may be contributing factors, there are a host of others, such as the EU exit, the impacts of the pandemic and climate change.”

“Generally, the standards that apply in the UK remain the same as those that apply across the EU. These help to ensure we have some of the safest food in the world, which protects public health and provides assurance to other countries to facilitate exports and support international trade. But reductions in standards are being reported by EHPs [Environmental Health Practitioners] now that local authorities have resumed food inspections.”


Image credits: Shutterstock

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