OnTrace Agri-food Traceability (OnTrace)

November 12, 2009 09:00 ET

OnTrace Survey Confirms Ontario Consumers Concerned About Food Origins

GUELPH, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Nov. 12, 2009) - Ontario consumers really care about their food and the people who produce it. They care enough to want more knowledge and information about the food they buy for their family, where it is from and whether it truly is from Ontario.

That was one of the findings in a new survey done by Ontario's traceability organization, OnTrace Agri-food Traceability (OnTrace), in collaboration with Toronto research firm, The Strategic Counsel. The study was commissioned to understand what Ontario consumers thought about the food they buy and how they can verify where it originates.

The survey details the findings from qualitative and quantitative research conducted among grocery shoppers across the province during August and September of this year. OnTrace was looking for insight into how consumers perceive the brands for Ontario products and what assurances Ontarians are seeking about the food they eat.

"One clear message from this study is that consumers are increasingly passionate about eating Ontario products. But, they are also becoming more concerned about the food that they purchase," said Curtiss Littlejohn, Chair of the Board of Directors, OnTrace. "When it comes to buying their household's groceries, most consumers expressed a deep sense of pride toward Ontario products, and a sense of obligation to support local farming over other options when it is affordable and convenient. For Ontario food producers this is good news."

"We have intuitively felt that having a reliable way to verify the source of food products is important to consumers," said Brian Sterling, CEO, OnTrace. "What we found was that a large majority of consumers feel that a simple and consistent "gold seal" that is backed up by a trusted standard would be of great value to them. The challenge for OnTrace is obviously how to help industry address this opportunity."

Key Findings

- Ontario grocery shoppers are increasingly passionate and concerned about the food that they buy. The research discovered that Ontario foods represent trustworthiness, quality and freshness to consumers and there is also a deep sense of pride felt in Ontario farm products. Consumers said it is important to buy Ontario foods in order to support Ontario farmers. Supporting the local economy resonated as another important reason why people buy Ontario foods.

- The majority of household grocery shoppers in Ontario do their primary grocery shopping at a large grocery store chain; yet, many have also done a notable amount of shopping at specialty stores or local farmers' markets recently because of the quality and the freshness of food offered at these locations.

Food marketing in Ontario is confusing to the consumer

There is an opportunity to supplement existing Ontario food logos with a 'gold seal' certification and traceability logo.

- Ontario consumers expressed frustration they cannot easily identify food grown and produced in Ontario. Moreover, the study found that there is an absence of a powerful "Ontario brand" in the marketplace - one that people think of spontaneously when they think of Ontario-grown foods.

- Ontarians tend to be unaware of most of the Ontario food and wine logos, although when prompted they do recognize the Foodland Ontario and VQA logos.

- Ironically, the marketing logos and slogans used by food producer and processor organizations to promote themselves and Ontario food, seem to confuse and frustrate consumers.

- It was clear that there is a growing appetite for a gold seal or umbrella logo to replace or supplement the many Ontario food logos being used today. Consumers stated, this would make shopping easier and they would have greater confidence that the source of food was verified.

- Together, these results suggest that one of the barriers to purchasing Ontario produce and meat products is a lack of clearly identifiable labels to let people know which foods are from Ontario.

Food Certification is gaining popularity

Both the focus groups and quantitative research shows that there is significant interest in traceability and certification of the source or provenance of food.

- This interest in traceability and certification comes from the consumers' trust and confidence in locally produced food products. As shown in other research, grocery shoppers believe that locally produced food is fresher and better than products coming from further away.

- Moreover, grocery shoppers place significant value on helping Ontario farmers and the local and provincial economy.

- Having a certification program increases consumers' confidence that they are truly buying their food products from Ontario farmers and processors.

- Even before the concept of traceability and certification are described, people raised and embraced the idea of food being certified for freshness, quality and safety.

- About 85% of survey consumers said that they are interested or very interested in the concept of traceability and certification.

- There is much more interest in knowing what Ontario region a food product comes from compared to knowing which specific farm.

- About 74% of consumers say that they would be more confident buying Ontario fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat products, if it they knew it was certified to a reliable standard.

- A plurality (40%) of grocery shoppers identified meats as the food products that should be subject to traceability and certification. Still significant proportions also identify dairy, fruits, and vegetables.

Make it easy and keep costs down

- Ontarians expect government, farmers, industry, and not-for-profit organizations to work together to develop and oversee a system of food traceability and certification.

- Participants agreed that the most transparent and trustworthy source for organizing and overseeing such a certification process would be an independent organization that works closely with producers and government to ensure high standards, and also have the expertise to know what would benefit both farmers and consumers in Ontario.

- According to consumers, the most appealing features of an Ontario food traceability and certification system would include being able to identify Ontario food products clearly and easily, to know more about the meats that they buy, and to know more about when fruits and vegetables were picked.

- There was some concern that a new system could impose a financial burden on smaller farmers, perhaps placing them at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis larger farmers.

- Overall, food traceability and certification of Ontario originated food products was an appealing and valuable concept, particularly with respect to meats. Most respondents agreed that their grocery shopping experience would be enhanced through such a system.

- The increasing connection to and trust in Ontario foods among consumers suggests that there is an opportunity to enhance their grocery shopping experience with clearly identified locally produced food.

Survey Methodology

The principal objectives of this market research were to:

- Measure the demand for the traceability of food products in Ontario

- Determine the drivers of interest in traceability; and

- Quantify attitudes and perceptions around the potential value of traceability certification.

To address these objectives, both qualitative and quantitative methods were employed by The Strategic Counsel. The qualitative component of the research consisted of eight two-hour discussion groups across Ontario in four cities: Toronto, Windsor, Sudbury and Kingston.

The quantitative phase of the research consisted of a survey of 1000 Ontario grocery shoppers conducted between October 2nd and October 8th, 2009.

ABOUT ONTRACE

OnTrace is the industry-led not-for-profit corporation created to lead food traceability programs and initiatives in the province of Ontario. The OnTrace Board of Directors is made of senior industry leaders from a cross-section of agriculture and other industry sectors.

OnTrace's goals are: to deliver traceability solutions that will enable the agriculture and agri-food industry in Ontario to become more innovative and competitive and; to strengthen the capacity of industry and government to respond to emergencies related to agriculture and agri-food welfare and public safety.

OnTrace is located at: 1030 Gordon Street, Suite 202, Guelph, ON N1G 4X5. Our contact coordinates are: Toll Free 1-888-38-TRACE (8-7223) Phone 519.766.9292, Fax 519.766.1313. For further information, visit: www.ontraceagrifood.com.

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