This article was published on CSRwire Talkback on March 24, 2014.

As controversies like LSD-laced meat, “yoga mat bread” and deceptive labeling become more prevalent, just a quick trip to the grocery store can be more complex than ever before. When shopping for food, consumers prize family satisfaction above all else (97%), but increasingly, they consider health and nutrition (93%) and sustainability (77%) as important factors in their buying decisions, according to the newly-released 2014 Cone Communications Food Issues Trend Tracker.

Today’s consumers are more conscious about the products they buy and what they put in their bodies. Americans prioritize food safety (93%) and nutritional value (92%) when deciding what makes it into their shopping cart, but they also see a variety of other issues as significant, including:

•   74% locally produced

•   69% sustainable packaging

•   69% animal welfare

•   67% non-GMO

•   65% protects and renews natural resources


Where a food product comes from is nearly as influential as what’s in it, according to the research. Local has officially hit the mainstream, with nearly nine out of 10 Americans (89%) considering where a product is produced when making food purchasing decisions. So why is local so popular? Sixty-four percent of consumers say they want to support local businesses and the community. Other motives include:

•   39% of Americans consider shopping locally because they believe the taste and quality of the product is better.

•   31% has more trust in the standards for locally produced foods than other regions or countries.

•   28% believes the products are healthier.

•   26% thinks it’s better for the environment when food doesn’t travel as far.

Consumers believe so strongly in going local that they’ll make sacrifices to do so – two-thirds (66%) will pay more and nearly half (46%) would forfeit variety in favor of products grown and produced close to home.


Consumers are also interested in the overall impact of the food products they purchase. More than eight-in-10 Americans (83%) consider sustainability when buying food and would like access more environmentally-conscious options (81%). Their motivations to consider sustainability in the grocery aisle range from the altruistic to self-serving, including:

•   43% of shoppers want to do their part to protect and preserve the environment

•   39% believes the quality/taste is better

•   38% wants to show support for companies who are doing the right thing

•   37% believes the products are healthier


Genetically modified organisms are increasingly on Americans’ radars when hitting the grocery aisles. Three-in-five Americans are on the lookout for non GMO-labeled foods, but the majority (55%) is still unclear about whether GMOs are “good” or “bad.” Eighty-four percent want companies to not only disclose GMO use, but also help educate about GMOs. Those that are shopping for non-GMO products do so because:

•   39% believes non-GMO foods are healthier

•   32% worries about the effects on the environment

•   24% questions the ethics behind the use of GMOs


As consumers navigate the myriad health and sustainability issues in grocery aisles today, companies have the opportunity to be partners rather than adversaries. Understanding consumer concerns and priorities can help companies frame the conversation and build stronger relationships with today’s shoppers.

Here are five tips to help communicators ensure their companies and products are part of this evolving conversation:

•   Communicate Impact: Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Americans want companies to do a better job explaining how their food purchases impact the environment. Companies must show how individuals can have a positive impact through purchases, but also how company efforts are laddering up to broader change in terms consumers understand.

•   Appeal to Dual Interests: When it comes to sustainability, consumers are equally motivated to purchase by personal needs and a desire to improve society. Messaging must be two-fold. Companies must clearly demonstrate the impact consumers’ purchases are having on the environment, while reinforcing health, taste and quality attributes.

•   Be a Resource: After friends and family, Americans see food companies and healthcare providers (16%) as the next most influential sources of information. Companies have consumer approval to be trusted resources – be transparent and approachable in providing information.

•   Understand Niche Nuances: Different consumer segments are motivated to purchase for diverse reasons – know your target consumer and customize marketing messages to them. When it comes to purchasing sustainable food products, women are more altruistic, motivated by a desire to do the right thing, while men put taste and quality above all else. Millennials are more driven by values and ethics – especially in regard to the GMO debate.

•   Harness Social Media: Consumers are airing their concerns to their social networks and accessing food information online throughout the day (43%). Go beyond on-pack messaging and canned responses – use social media as a way to answer consumer questions and interact in real time.

What do you think is the most pressing food issue today? Let us know on Twitter using #ConeCSR.

Read the article on CSRwire Talkback.

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