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Consumer Attitudes Towards Food Safety - China - August 2013

“Food safety in China is of growing concern, strongly linked to weaknesses in the food chain from farming, processing and preparation to serving. According to the National Consumer Association, about 60% of the 39,082 complaints received about food in 2011 related to food quality and safety issues. Most of these were complaints about food quality, representing 24,860 cases. Food safety complaints made up 1,362 cases."

– Lui Meng Chow – Research Analyst

In this report, we answer the key questions:

  • Different consumers react differently to food scares. How can manufacturers, retail stores and foodservice providers adapt to specifically target these different types of consumers? 
  • How can companies such as retailers, manufacturers and foodservice operators enhance their outlets or stores to get consumers’ trust in relation to the products that they sell?
  • Could manufacturers perhaps co-operate with the retailers or foodservice outlets, so consumers would trust their products more?
  • Which types of consumers do operators need to influence to convert into organic food eaters? How can operators increase penetration of organic food among consumers?
  • Food scare scandals have also brought to the attention of Chinese consumers the importance of ethical and environmental issues in the food chain. But what about food and drink products that carry ethical and environmental claims? What is the potential of these products?

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction

      • Definition
        • Report structure
          • Methodology
            • Abbreviations
            • Executive Summary

                • The consumer
                  • Food safety concerns by product category
                    • Main areas of concern
                      • Safety of foodservice outlets
                        • Safety of retail outlets
                          • Views of organic food
                            • Measures that people are taking to protect themselves
                              • Attitudes towards food safety
                                • Key trends
                                  • Attitudinal differences across consumer segments
                                    • Figure 1: Food scares target groups, June 2013
                                  • Income, Age and Food Safety
                                    • Improvements in food tracking systems could gain consumers’ trust
                                      • Figure 2: Issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores, June 2013
                                    • Transparency in food preparation and food waste management
                                      • Figure 3: Issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets, June 2013
                                    • The emerging organic market in China
                                      • Moving forward to alternatives to ethical food products
                                        • Figure 4: Foods considered less safe to eat, June 2013
                                      • What we think
                                      • The Consumer – Food Safety Concerns by Product Category

                                        • Key points
                                          • Preserved and frozen foods cause the greatest concern
                                              • Figure 5: Food that are less safe to eat, June 2013
                                            • Fish, rice and vegetables – the secret to healthy eating?
                                              • 44% worry about at least five categories of food…
                                                • Figure 6: Repertoire of foods that are less safe to eat, June 2013
                                              • …and the wealthiest worry more than most
                                                  • Figure 7: Repertoire of food that are less safe to eat, by gender, age, personal income and city tier, June 2013
                                                • Food safety scandals are local: food safety concerns are national
                                                • The Consumer – Main areas of concern

                                                  • Key points
                                                    • Illegal additives cause the greatest concerns
                                                        • Figure 8: Reason of food safety concerns, June 2013
                                                      • GM crops are only a minor consideration
                                                        • Cancer a major worry for older women
                                                            • Figure 9: Key reasons for being worried about food safety, by gender, age and personal income, June 2013
                                                        • The Consumer – Safety of Foodservice Outlets

                                                          • Key points
                                                            • Food hygiene outranks fears over tainted cooking oil
                                                                • Figure 10: Most concerned aspects when eating out at food services outlets, June 2013
                                                              • Certification is, in itself, of little interest to consumers
                                                                • Less affluent and less educated consumers worry about kitchen hygiene
                                                                    • Figure 11: Most common most concerned aspects when eating out at food services outlets – rank 1, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                • The Consumer – Safety of Retail Outlets

                                                                  • Key points
                                                                    • Trust in retail stores seems to be higher than for foodservice
                                                                        • Figure 12: Most concerned aspects when shopping for food in retail stores, June 2013
                                                                      • Does the continuing use of wetmarkets shape consumer views?
                                                                          • Figure 13: Frequency of food buying by type of outlet, May 2013
                                                                      • The Consumer – Views of Organic Food

                                                                        • Key points
                                                                          • Cynicism over the Chinese food chain extends to the organic market…
                                                                              • Figure 14: Perception towards organic food, June 2013
                                                                            • …but many do believe that it offers an advantage…
                                                                              • …especially among higher earners
                                                                                  • Figure 15: Most important positive attitudes towards organic food, by gender, age and income, June 2013
                                                                                • Higher earners also have more faith in certification
                                                                                    • Figure 16: Most important negative attitudes towards organic food, by gender, age and income, June 2013
                                                                                  • Room for further growth in the sector
                                                                                  • The Consumer – Measures that People are Taking to Protect Themselves

                                                                                    • Key points
                                                                                      • Protection though labeling…
                                                                                          • Figure 17: Prevention measures towards food safety concerns, June 2013
                                                                                        • …and through taking control of the preparation process
                                                                                            • Figure 18: Most popular ways of protecting against food safety problems, by gender, age and income, June 2013
                                                                                          • Food safety concerns tie in with broader concerns about healthy lifestyles
                                                                                              • Figure 19: Changes in health-related lifestyle choices over the past year, November 2012
                                                                                          • The Consumer – Attitudes towards food safety

                                                                                            • Key points
                                                                                              • Nine in ten say it is important to pay attention to food safety
                                                                                                  • Figure 20: General attitudes towards food safety, June 2013
                                                                                                • Strong belief that clearer packaging is required
                                                                                                    • Figure 21: Attitudes towards food packaging, June 2013
                                                                                                  • Shared responsibility for ensuring food safety
                                                                                                    • Figure 22: Views on food operators’ responsibilities for providing information on food safety issues, June 2013
                                                                                                • Key Issue – Attitudinal Differences Across Consumer Segments

                                                                                                  • Key points
                                                                                                    • Psychographic and demographic profile across the four segment groups
                                                                                                        • Figure 23: Target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                      • Panic-stricken
                                                                                                        • Food safety is a constant concern for the Panic-stricken…
                                                                                                          • …but they aren’t as proactive as they could be
                                                                                                            • The Conscious
                                                                                                              • The Conscious think that food safety concerns can be fixed…
                                                                                                                • …but only if industry stakeholders work together
                                                                                                                  • The Conscious take responsibility for their own safety
                                                                                                                    • Take-it-easy
                                                                                                                      • Laid-back: but only until the next scandal hits
                                                                                                                        • Inattentive
                                                                                                                          • Concerned – but not as worried as the wider population
                                                                                                                            • Attitudes towards food safety among target groups
                                                                                                                              • Figure 24: General attitudes towards food safety, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                            • Exploring opportunities by targeting different consumer segments according to reasons for food safety concerns
                                                                                                                                • Figure 25: Reasons for food safety concerns, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                              • What does it mean?
                                                                                                                              • Key Issue – Income, Age and Food Safety

                                                                                                                                • Key points
                                                                                                                                  • Preventative measures still not commonly practised by some consumers
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 26: Preventative measures regarding food safety concerns, June 2013
                                                                                                                                  • Target food safety awareness campaigns at lower income and less educated consumers
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 27: Selected preventative measures regarding food safety concerns, by education level, June 2013
                                                                                                                                  • Older people show take a different approach to protecting their health
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 28: Reasons for food safety concerns, June 2013
                                                                                                                                  • Does quality beat convenience for older respondents?
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 29: Changes in consumer eating habits in the past 12 months, by age group, May 2013
                                                                                                                                  • Older respondents take the premium route to self-protection…
                                                                                                                                    • Figure 30: Selected preventative measures regarding food safety concerns, by age group, June 2013
                                                                                                                                  • …but different eating habits also shape concerns
                                                                                                                                    • Excess pesticides not only found in fruits and vegetables
                                                                                                                                      • What it means
                                                                                                                                      • Key Issue – Improvements in Food Tracking Systems Can Gain Consumers’ Trust

                                                                                                                                        • Key points
                                                                                                                                          • Consumers look for freshness, hygiene and sources of produce during shopping in store
                                                                                                                                            • Figure 31: Issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores, June 2013
                                                                                                                                            • Figure 32: Frequency of food buying, by type of outlet, May 2013
                                                                                                                                          • Supermarkets still have work to do in reassuring their customers…
                                                                                                                                            • …and domestic retailers face a tougher challenge than foreign rivals
                                                                                                                                                • Figure 33: RANKING OF SERVICE ATTRIBUTES OF FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC RETAILERS, APRIL 2012
                                                                                                                                              • Some stores lack trust on food safety issues
                                                                                                                                                • Supermarkets accused of not meeting their environmental responsibilities
                                                                                                                                                  • Companies working on CSR to reassure on food safety concerns
                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 34: Information on Carrefour farmer-store link, 2008 - 13
                                                                                                                                                    • Carrefour helps fund and educate farmers
                                                                                                                                                      • Nestlé China is strengthening its supply chain
                                                                                                                                                        • Food traceability to reduce food safety issues
                                                                                                                                                          • Specialist companies move in to help food companies improve traceability
                                                                                                                                                            • Certification only works if consumers trust the supplier
                                                                                                                                                              • On-the-spot food-testing to reassure consumers
                                                                                                                                                                • Online retailers providing more information and offering more sources to tap into consumer’s food safety concerns
                                                                                                                                                                  • Providing fresh produce directly to the consumer
                                                                                                                                                                    • What does it mean?
                                                                                                                                                                    • Key Issue – Transparency in Food Preparation and Food Waste Management

                                                                                                                                                                      • Key points
                                                                                                                                                                        • Consumers’ food safety concerns and expectations of foodservice outlets
                                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 35: Issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                        • Half of respondents eat out between one and three times a week
                                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 36: Changes in preparing, eating and buying meals, May 2013
                                                                                                                                                                        • Taste, not hygiene standards, is the main choice factor when eating out
                                                                                                                                                                          • Figure 37: Top 3 factors considered when choosing a full service restaurant to eat at, August 2012
                                                                                                                                                                        • Different concerns across consumer segments when eating out
                                                                                                                                                                          • Even Inattentive consumers have strong concerns about hygiene
                                                                                                                                                                            • As consumers move up the income scale, their concerns change
                                                                                                                                                                              • Figure 38: Issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                            • Operators need to improve their waste oil and food waste management
                                                                                                                                                                              • New approaches to managing food waste…
                                                                                                                                                                                • …but it will take time to change habits
                                                                                                                                                                                  • High quality and safe ingredients can attract customers
                                                                                                                                                                                    • Transparent kitchens – a peek at food preparation
                                                                                                                                                                                      • School canteens and retail stores are also experimenting with open kitchens
                                                                                                                                                                                        • What does it mean?
                                                                                                                                                                                        • Key Issue – Emerging Organic Trend in China

                                                                                                                                                                                          • Key points
                                                                                                                                                                                            • Consumers have limited understanding of organic food
                                                                                                                                                                                                • Figure 39: Selected attitudes towards organic food, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                              • New regulations for organic food
                                                                                                                                                                                                • Confusion of organic food in the market still going on
                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Evidence that shoppers are not fully aware of new regulations
                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 40: Selected attitudes towards organic food, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Challenges on organic food labelling and originality
                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Higher-end retailers can use certification as a point of differentiation
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Opportunity for organic speciality stores to grow
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 41: Type of store purchased at, March 2012
                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Farm-to-consumer direct purchasing
                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Community-supported farms respond to demand for organic food
                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Online organic food marketplace
                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Organic food packages target different demographics
                                                                                                                                                                                                              • What does it mean?
                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Key Issue – Moving Forward to Alternatives to Ethical Food Products

                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Key points
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Preserved and frozen food are most concerning items on consumers’ shopping lists
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Figure 42: Foods considered less safe to eat, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Formula still a concern
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Lack of food products with ethical claims in China
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 43: Food and drink with ethical & environmental product claims, 2008 – 13 (June)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Opportunity in food and drink product categories claiming ethical to target high income consumers
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 44: Top 10 China food and drink products with ethical and environmental claims, 2008 – 13 (June)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Halal food products in China
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Figure 45: Top 5 food and drink product claims in China, 2008-13 (June)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • What does it mean?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Appendix – Foods Considered Less Safe to Eat

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 46: Foods considered less safe to eat, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 47: Most common foods considered less safe to eat, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 48: Next most common foods considered less safe to eat, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 49: Other foods considered less safe to eat, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Repertoire analysis
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 50: Repertoire of foods considered less safe to eat, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 51: Repertoire of foods considered less safe to eat, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Appendix – Reasons for Food Safety Concerns

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 52: Reasons for food safety concerns, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 53: Most common reasons for food safety concerns – rank 1, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 54: Next most common reasons for food safety concerns – rank 1, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 55: Most common reasons for food safety concerns – rank 2, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 56: Next most common reasons for food safety concerns – rank 2, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 57: Most common reasons for food safety concerns – rank 3, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 58: Next most common reasons for food safety concerns – rank 3, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Appendix – Issues of Most Concern When Eating Out at Foodservice Outlets

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 59: Issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 60: Most common issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets – rank 1, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 61: Next most common issues of most concerns when eating out at foodservice outlets – rank 1, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 62: Other issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets – rank 1, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 63: Most common issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets – rank 2, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 64: Next most common issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets – rank 2, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 65: Other issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets – rank 2, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 66: Most common issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets – rank 3, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 67: Next most common issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets – rank 3, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 68: Other issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets – rank 3, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Appendix – Attitudes towards Organic Food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 69: Attitudes towards organic food, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 70: Most common attitudes towards organic food, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 71: Next most common attitudes towards organic food, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 72: Other attitudes towards organic food, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Appendix – Issues of Most Concern When Shopping for Food in Retail Stores

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 73: Issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 74: Most common issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores – rank 1, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 75: Next most common issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores – rank 1, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 76: Other issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores – rank 1, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 77: Most common issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores – rank 2, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 78: Next most common issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores – rank 2, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 79: Other issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores – rank 2, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 80: Most common issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores – rank 3, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 81: Next most common issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores – rank 3, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 82: Other issues of most concern aspects when shopping for food in retail stores – rank 3, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Appendix – Preventative Measures Regarding Food Safety Concerns

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 83: Preventative measures regarding food safety concerns, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 84: Most common preventative measures regarding food safety concerns, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 85: Next most common preventative measures regarding food safety concerns, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 86: Other preventative measures regarding food safety concerns, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Appendix – General Attitudes towards Food Safety

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 87: General attitudes towards food safety, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 88: Agreement with the statement ‘I am generally concerned about the safety of our food these days’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 89: Agreement with the statement ‘People worry too much about food safety’ by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 90: Agreement with the statement ‘I am only worried about food safety when certain incidents occurs’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 91: Agreement with the statement ‘It is important to pay attention to food safety issues’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 92: Agreement with the statement ‘I don’t think food safety issues can be completely solved in china’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 93: Agreement with the statement ‘Preparation/cooking guidelines on packaging should be made clearer’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 94: Agreement with the statement ‘There should be clearer labelling of ingredients, additives on packaging’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 95: Agreement with the statement ‘Storage guidelines on packaging should be made clearer’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 96: Agreement with the statement ‘Food manufacturers should provide more information on food safety issues’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 97: Agreement with the statement ‘Food retailers should provide more information on food safety issues’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 98: Agreement with the statement ‘Food operators should be transparent in their source of ingredients’, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Appendix – Further Analysis

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 99: Target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 100: Target groups, by demographics, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 101: Foods considered less safe to eat, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 102: Reasons for food safety concerns, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 103: Issues of most concern when eating out at foodservice outlets, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 104: Perception towards organic food, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 105: Issues of most concern when shopping for food in retail stores, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 106: Preventative measures towards food safety concerns, by target groups, June 2013
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Figure 107: General attitude towards food safety, by target groups, June 2013

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Companies Covered

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Consumer Attitudes Towards Food Safety - China - August 2013

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