July 11/Melbourne, Australia/RMIT University -- Consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet for information about food products, but, seemingly, they are more trusting of good old traditional printed information than they are of what they can get from online sources, particularly social media and smartphone applications.

A survey conducted by Melbourne’s RMIT University and not-for-profit standards organisation, GS1 Australia, uncovered insights into what information consumers look for when shopping for food products and the channels they trust to deliver this information – and the majority of them made it clear that traditional printed materials were consistently their most trusted medium for product information.

For instance, when sourcing general product information, most consumers said they placed their trust in printed labels (64 per cent), and printed brochures and fact sheets (54%) -- compared to 37% for the general internet sources, and just 16% for other electronic sources, including social media and smartphone applications.  Mobile text messaging services were the least trusted media, by 9%.

The majority of consumers surveyed –- 80% to be exact -- also say they trust printed food labels more than smartphone apps, and 79% trust printed food labels more than the Internet.

According to professor Caroline Chan, who led the research team from RMIT School of Business IT and Logistics, the results provide the food industry with valuable insights into what consumers are looking for when it comes to printed labels and other channels, such as mobile apps.

“Although consumers are comfortable using electronic technology for other routine tasks, they do not currently trust it as a key media channel of food product information. It is vital for industry, especially brand owners, to understand why and therefore how we can achieve higher levels of trust in the future.”

Social media does not get a good rap from consumers when they want to find reliable information on food products.

Asked to rate their confidence level of product information sourced from various parties, respondents indicated social media as the least trusted sources for product information (11%), while health professionals, scientists, government health and regulatory bodies and health-related associations are the most trusted sources (80-83%). Food manufacturers and family and friends came out equal at 52%.

The study also highlighted what consumers considered the most important information when they buy a food product for the first time and nutritional information came out on top at 70%, followed closely by the list of ingredients (66%) and trusted brand at 65%.

On the nutritional information panel, sugar content and fat content were the most frequently scrutinised nutrients, with 60-62% of respondents checking for these on first-time buys, and only 32% looking at the percentage of Recommended Daily Intake (% RDI) at the point of sale. Chan suggests this may be due to a general lack of understanding about RDI information or its importance at the point of consumption, rather than at the point of sale.

GS1 Australia’s chief information officer, Steven Pereira, said brand owners needed to understand what information consumers were looking for, and how best to deliver this to consumers via channels they would use and trust.

“Printed food labels have been the primary deliverer of food product information for some time, and the survey shows no signs of this decreasing. But as consumers are looking for more product information, the challenge now is to develop credible and reliable electronic sources that can provide a wide range of detailed information about food, which consumers will trust,” he said.

Pereira said reported that GS1 would release its GGoScan iPhone application to consumers in September. According to Pereira, the app is the first industry-endorsed iPhone application to provide detailed extended labelling product data to consumers, accurately and in real time.

“The app enables consumers to scan the bar code on a product and receive comprehensive product data, including allergen information, ingredient lists, nutritional content, Daily Intake information, dietary information (such as Kosher, Halal, vegan, organic), as well as preparation, usage and storage instructions, country of origin, product descriptions and images.”

According to Pereira, many other apps in the marketplace today gather product information through crowd sourcing, which he says has a “high potential for wrong information and only works to fuel consumers’ distrust of these channels.

“The upcoming GS1 GoScan app delivers information directly from the brand owners, the most trustworthy source of information. We have worked in collaboration with organisations like Anaphylaxis Australia, the Allergen Bureau, Coeliac Australia, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, retailers, universities and more, to ensure GS1 GoScan meets consumers’ needs.”