Dioxin scare spoils consumers’ appetites

February 2011

The recent scandal involving dioxins in animal feed thoroughly spoilt the appetite of German consumers for poached eggs and roast pork at the beginning of this year. But are the negative headlines having a more sustained impact on their preferences? It would appear so: two-thirds of Germans have reacted to the news concerning contaminated eggs, poultry and pork by changing their eating and purchasing habits. However, around 35% of consumers appear to be unconcerned by the findings.

Only a very small proportion of people are no longer eating any eggs or meat: just 2% of respondents have completely cut these foods out of their diets. Nevertheless, the majority of the German population has reacted to the events in some way. Since the scandal, for example, 41% of consumers are seeking safety and quality in the immediate vicinity and are opting to buy eggs and meat from local suppliers. Older people in particular are seeing this as a way to avoid contaminated foods. A further 17% are switching to organic products and a similar proportion are at least limiting their consumption of eggs and meat. However, 35% of people are not at all concerned and see no reason to alter their eating or shopping habits. These are the findings of the latest survey conducted by the GfK Association.

The extent to which the scandal has affected people’s attitudes and actions depends on age and gender. The findings show that women in particular are trying to keep the potential risks to a minimum. Across almost all age groups, more women than men are choosing locally sourced and organic goods and limiting their consumption of products affected by the scandal. Only a quarter of women are continuing to buy and consume in the same way they did before.

Locally sourced products become more popular with age

As people grow older, they have a greater desire to know where their eggs and meat are sourced, and this plays a more important role when they make purchase decisions. Women are once again out in front: the latest figures show that more than half of female consumers aged 50+ are buying eggs and meat from their local region – twice as many as in the 14-34 age group. At 41%, the comparable figure for men aged 50+ is lower, but still considerably higher than that for younger males.

An above-average proportion of younger men have shown themselves to be unconcerned by the dioxin scandal. More than half of those in the 14-34 age group have not changed their consumption habits at all, and just 11% are foregoing the occasional egg at breakfast time. Young women are also rather less critical than the older generation and fewer are changing their eating habits. This could be attributable to the insouciance of youth, but it is more likely that young women tend to pay more attention to nutrition and eat less meat anyway, for health reasons. Perhaps they therefore feel less affected by the dioxin scandal in general. In any case, 6% of women aged under 34 are currently eating neither meat nor eggs.

Organic products benefit from the dioxin scandal

Across the board, food retailers are seeing the effects of the negative headlines in their accounts. Anyone currently trying to make money from the sale of pork products will be particularly feeling the effects of consumers’ uncertainty. Sales have been declining since the start of the year: data recorded in the GfK consumer panel shows that in the second week of the year alone, when news coverage was dominated by the scandal, sales volume decreased by around 14% in comparison with the previous year, while sales revenue dropped by almost 10%. Two weeks later, businesses were still reporting falling sales for pork, although the pace of the decline was slowing. However, Germans did not exclude poultry from their diets on a long-term basis. Whereas sales of chicken, turkey and goose fell by almost 17% in the second week of the year, they had already returned to positive figures two weeks later.

It is clear that producers of organic products have been the winners in this scandal. In mid-January, sales of organic meat climbed by a third, and they then rose by almost 100% at the end of the month. Sales of eggs bearing the organic stamp also recorded significant growth, increasing by up to 70% in some areas since the beginning of the year.

How safe are our food products?

Just recently, Germany received high praise from its EU partners for its crisis management during the dioxin scandal. The EU Commission in Brussels reported that the local authorities “worked with great efficiency” and their approach “guaranteed a high level of safety”. But how much confidence do people actually have in the quality and safety of food products?

At least half of all consumers have no concerns about food products from Germany. On the other hand, around a fifth of respondents no longer feel completely happy about eating a joint of German meat since the dioxin scandal, owing to safety fears. The remaining respondents are undecided as to how they should assess the situation. Here too, answers often depend on the age and gender of the consumer: women and older people are rather more skeptical than average.

It remains to be seen whether the recent scandal will continue to influence the dietary choices of Germans in the future. Retailers have already had to adapt to changes in habits and consumers’ increasing environmental awareness. Several newspapers have even reported a recent shortage of organic eggs in some cities.

Data source: GfK Verein (GfK CAPI-BUS, February 2011) and GfK Consumer Panel (ConsumerScan Fresh Food Panel);
For enquiries please contact Helmut Huebsch, GfK SE

For all other enquiries on GfK Compact contact Claudia Gaspar, e-mail: hello@nim.org.