Chinese consumer concern is opportunity for EU food producers

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock/AndreyPopov
Picture: iStock/AndreyPopov

Related tags: Food fraud, Food safety, China

Chinese consumers have deep-rooted concerns about food safety and fraud in the domestic supply chain, according to research led by Newcastle University.

Researchers from the university in the UK said perceived safety and quality of food imported from Europe into China provides commercial opportunities for producers.

As Europe’s second largest export market (after US) the Chinese market represents significant potential.

European food products were used to provide a comparison to items made in China.

Chinese consumers distrustful of domestic products

Infant milk formula, Scotch whisky and olive oil were looked at due to their different consumption occasions, target consumers and susceptibility to fraud in China.

Lead author Lynn Frewer, professor of food and society at Newcastle University said: “We found that despite considerable reforms of the food system regulation, Chinese consumers were distrustful of domestic products and considered imported food products to be better quality and safer.

“We found that Chinese consumers are prepared to pay a premium for trustworthy authenticity cues so while it may take a little more effort, authenticity and safety guarantees usually add net value to products.”

Chinese consumers perceive food fraud to be a hazard that represents a food safety risk.

The study found targeted communication of authenticity assurance measures including regulations; enforcement; product testing and actions by industry may improve consumer trust in the domestic supply chain and reduce concerns regarding food safety risks associated with fraud.

High regard for EU supply chain

Researchers used qualitative and quantitative methodologies to understand Chinese consumers concerns about food fraud and to assess attitudes towards foods imported from Europe.

Qualitative research (seven focus groups) was done in Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu to explore Chinese consumer concerns in relation to food fraud.

All participants were the main or joint decision maker for food purchasing in their home and were between 18-45 years old.

Lack of trust was isolated to the domestic supply chain. The European supply chain was regarded as offering greater levels of authenticity, quality and safety assurances.

From the perspective of European food manufacturers it is important to highlight the country of origin to differentiate their products from domestically produced equivalents, said researchers.

“Food manufacturers, exporters and policy makers are encouraged to recognise regional difference in risk perceptions and the variation in the importance of authenticity cues to consumers when identifying authentic food​,” according to the study.

Traditional vs novel methods

Traditional indicators such as country of origin, price and brand and physical prevention measures such as tamper proof seals, were the most trusted means of identifying authentic and safe foods.

Participants expressed doubts regarding authenticity of additional cues adopted by manufacturers to signify product integrity such as certifications and QR codes which were considered to be easily falsified and required additional knowledge to interpret.

Data were collected in January 2015 by Social Science Research Agency Millward Brown.

A subsequent quantitative survey (n=850) in August 2015 tested hypotheses from the qualitative research and literature.

Researchers said further work needs to be done with different socio-economic groups as well as middle class affluent Chinese consumers covered in the current study.

The work was part of the EU FoodIntegrity project that will hold its concluding conference 14-15 November in Nantes, France.

Source: PLOS One

“Food fraud and the perceived integrity of European food imports into China”

Authors: H. Kendall, P. Naughton, S. Kuznesof, M. Raley, M. Dean, B. Clark, H. Stolz, R. Home, M. Y. Chan, Q. Zhong, P. Brereton, L. J. Frewer

Related topics: Food safety, Food Safety & Quality

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