New report examines how consumers make food choices

New study shows that less than 10 percent of consumers look to farmers and ranchers as their source of information about the food they are consuming according to the NASIS Food Report. (Credit: Alice Henneman)

June 30, 2017

Lincoln, Neb. — According to the 2016 Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey (NASIS) Food Report conducted by the Bureau of Sociological Research at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the vast majority of consumers get their information about the food they consume from food labels and websites. While labels can tell the consumer what is in a product and the nutritional value, less than 10 percent of surveyed consumers look to the sourcefarmers and ranchers—for their food production facts.

“Farmers and ranchers have a better understanding of production practices and why consumers shouldn’t be concerned with some information found on many of the current labels,” says Rob Eirich, a Nebraska Extension Educator and the Nebraska Director of Beef Quality Assurance. “Labels don’t define production-related claims and many websites tend to be biased by the supporting organization of that site.” The NASIS Food Report looked into what other ways consumers are making their food choices.

According to the NASIS report, 61 percent of respondents said that taste was a “very important” factor in their food choice. Taste is the number one factor respondents consider when purchasing food. Regardless of health status, consumers rank cost as “very important”; however, respondents in poor health compared to respondents in excellent health had a slightly higher percentage who listed cost as “not at all important”. Extension Educator Alice Henneman, says this could be linked to the nutritional value of the food they are consuming.

“One of the reasons for some of the people in poor health rating it as "not at all important" could be that their poor health was due to eating less healthy foods rather than shopping for the most nutrition for the money,” Henneman said.

Another notable finding of this study was that as age increased, so did the concern for foodborne illnesses from bacteria. The 65 and older range showed the most concern for food safety factors while those in the 55-64 age range came in second, and ages 19-54 were the least concerned. Henneman said that this could be linked to those 65 and older being more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

“As we age, our immune system and other organs in our body aren’t as efficient in recognizing and ridding our bodies of bacteria and pathogens that cause foodborne illness. As older adults are more susceptible to diseases in general, many already have an existing condition they don’t want to compound with a foodborne illness. “

Similarly, respondents who are in poor health were more concerned with food additives and foodborne illness from bacteria than those who are in excellent or good health. Eirich explained that those in poor health typically have a weaker immune system and harmful toxins, bacteria or pathogens could raise the risk of illness.

While trying to find out the different purchasing motives between men and women, it became clear that women were much more likely to rate a factor as “very important” as well as “very concerned” than males.

“Studies consistently show women tend to be more concerned than men with practicing a healthy eating style,” said Extension Educator Cindy Brison. “Women typically score higher on nutrition knowledge.  Given women’s traditional role in food related activities such as shopping and cooking, it is likely they are more familiar with having to make food choices.” While taste and cost were of high importance to both women and men, women include more nutritional factors when making their food choices.

While this survey concluded that taste and cost consistently dictate most consumers’ food choices, experts from Nebraska Extension have a reminder for consumers to make the most accurate choices about the foods they are buying: Talking to farmers and ranchers is the best way to cut through the production claims listed on food packaging.

Alice Henneman
Extension Educator
Food, Nutrition and Health

Writer: Gina Incontro - IANR Media