A new survey shows consumers increasing favor of chicken over beef purchases and also suggests they care where their food is produced but are confused about labeling requirements.
The November Food Demand Survey from Oklahoma State University, also known by the FooDS acronym, shows consumers plan to buy more chicken and less beef and pork coming months. This has been their plan since last November, according to the survey.
FooDS is a monthly on-line survey with a sample size of at least 1,000 individuals, weighted to match the US population in terms of age, gender, education and region of residence.
The FooDS survey also tries to measure consumer's acceptance or resistance to food pricing with a measure it calls "willingness to pay." The researchers said willingness to pay for all food products increased from one month ago, except beef steak for which WTP was fundamentally unchanged. WTP for pork and chicken products increased 8-9%. WTP for all meat products, except deli ham, remain higher relative to the same time last year.
Similar to previous months, consumers reported that their biggest challenge is finding affordable foods which fit within their budget.
Together, this information suggests consumers have come to expect food inflation but are working to mitigate its effects.
Taste, safety and then price, in that order, remained consumers' most important values when purchasing foods. Country of origin fell quite a bit lower in this list of important traits, along with animal welfare questions, convenience and environmental issues.
Continue reading after the jump.
However, three new questions were added to the survey in November, in part because of the recent World Trade Organization ruling on the US mandatory country of origin labeling law. The FooDS researchers said they wanted to gauge consumers' knowledge and perceptions of meat-origin labels.
Despite giving country of origin a relatively low importance in their purchasing decisions, consumers did express a willingness to pay more for US-produced meats. Of course, this was one of the primary reasons, if not the overarching reason, the COOL law was proposed in the first place.
The surveyed consumers valued beef that was born or born and raised in Canada $0.89 and $1.05 less, respectively, than beef that was born, raised and slaughtered in the US. This section asked consumers about their willingness to pay for a 12-oz. boneless rib-eye steak, depending on the country of origin.
The researchers also said consumers placed no statistically significant penalty on a steak labeled " product of Canada and the US" compared with US-only origin labeling.
However, consumers remain confused about COOL labeling and other meat labeling requirements. They were asked separate questions about where animals were born, raised and slaughtered. The answers were similar for the three questions but not identical.
• About 40% of consumers did not know whether grocery stores required to label where an animal was born, raised or slaughtered.
• More consumers than not thought grocery stores were not required to label origin information -- this varied from 32% to 39%.
• Only an average of about 23% of consumers thought grocery stores were required to label an animal's origin.
When asked about the information the government requires to appear on meat products, more than 64% of the FooDS respondents believed nutrition content information was mandatory by law. Another one-third thought meat labels had to declare the use of hormones.
Kansas State University agriculture economist Glynn Tonsor noted this is the only academic study he knows of measuring consumer knowledge and attitudes about country of origin labeling.
He said, "This limited awareness related to current mCOOL-specific details is consistent with several studies finding the origin of meat products to be less important to US consumers than several other values, including price, safety, taste and nutrition."
You can read the FooDS study on OSU's ag econ website.