Food Demand Survey - May 2015

The results of the May 2015 edition of the Food Demand Survey (FooDS) are now in.

Results reveal mixed changes in willingness-to-pay for disaggregate meat products.  However, stated purchase intentions for beef, pork, and chicken were all higher than last month as were expectations of price increases, suggesting an uptick in demand for meat.

As was the case in April, this month we again noticed an uptick in awareness of news about bird flu and an increase in concern about the issue.  That's two months in a row of notable increases in this issue.

We added several new ad hoc questions to the survey this month.  

The first set of questions were in response to the spreading avian influenza (bird flu) problem.  I've had several media inquiries (probably in response to this post) about the potential economic impacts of the outbreak.  One questions is whether domestic consumer demand for poultry and eggs will dampen in response to the outbreak.  My understanding is that avian influenza does not pose a human health or food safety risk, but of course that doesn't mean consumers believe the same.  As the regular tracking questions mentioned above suggest, consumers are becoming aware of the issue.  To delve into it a bit more, we added two agree/disagree questions. 

About 23% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they plan to eat less turkey and eggs because of the outbreak of avian influenza, and another 32% say they're concerned about the turkey and eggs they eat.  That's far from a majority, but it might be a large enough to affect demand.  Whether these beliefs will ultimately manifest themselves in the supermarket remains to be seen.  

A second set of questions were added to delve a bit deeper into the issue of labeling of GMO foods.  Yes, this an issue that has been much studied, and yes, consumer's answers to the question can't entirely be taken at face value (as my questions on preferences for DNA labeling have shown).  But, there seems to be some activity related to a GMO federal labeling initiative re-introduced by US Congressman Mike Pompeo from Kansas and others (see this for some discussion and background).  The bill has food industry support and it would move authority for GMO labeling to the FDA (and away from the states) and would only require labels if the FDA determines a health or safety risk.   

The first question asked: “Which of the following best describes your position on labeling of genetically engineered food?” Over half of the respondents answered, “Food companies should be required to label genetically engineered food in all circumstances”.  The other 46% of respondents expressed a more nuanced view.  About one fifth thought labeling should only be required if there is a health or safety risk and another 18% did not have a strong position. The remaining 6.5% of respondents stated “In general, food companies should not be required to label genetically engineered food but voluntary labels are permitted”.

Secondly, participants were asked: “How should the issue of mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food be decided?”  They could choose from one of six options.  

The majority, 61%, of the respondents stated “by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)”.  Just over 10% of repspondents stated “I don’t know” and only 5% of respondents stated “by ballot initiatives in each state”.

Finally, the third question asked: “To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?”  Participants were asked to rate each statement on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 = strongly disagree, 3=neither agree nor disagree, and 5 = strongly agree.

Respondents rated the statement “In general, I support mandatory labeling or genetically engineered foods” the highest out of the nine statements with a score of 3.86.  The statement “Seeing a label indicating the presence of genetically engineered ingredients on a food product would increase the likelihood I’d buy the product” rated the the lowest of the nine statements with a score of 2.84. 

Thanks to David Ropeik who suggested a couple of the questions below related to effect of labels on perceptions on choice.