The second Red Tractor Trust in Food Index has revealed that food produced in the UK is still more trusted than anywhere else but also highlights concerns from consumers as eating and shopping habits change.
Key findings from the report include:
- An 8% dip in trust since the first Index was published;
- Four in ten consumers state that they do not trust supermarkets, as people perceive that the quality of food they are buying is declining;
- Those who switch to value ranges assume that production standards are weaker, despite many of these being assured to UK specifications;
- 43% of consumers feat that UK standards will be undermined by changing regulations and trade deals.
The research, which was carried out by YouGov and commissioned by Red Tractor, revealed a significant drop in consumer trust across almost all British institutions, with food and energy seeing the biggest deterioration since 2021.
Over 3,500 UK adults took part in the survey, which found that trust in food has declined by 8% overall, increasing to 13% for adults in skilled, manual employment.
This swing in trust reportedly comes as shoppers are forced to change their buying habits because of the cost of living crisis. 46% of people said that they are changing what they buy, while 30% said that they are buying less meat – a figure which increases to 35% for those from lower-income households.
Almost a quarter of people (24%) said that they were trading down, buying what they perceive to be food produced to lower safety and animal welfare standards. For lower-income families, this increases to 29%. Worryingly, the Index reveals that 13% are buying less fruit and vegetables, rising to 19% for those with less disposable income.
Last year, 78% said that they trusted the safety and quality of food purchased from supermarkets. This figure dropped to 58%, suggesting that as people switch and trade down to value ranges, the standards are assumed to be weaker. Red Tractor highlights that the UK market is one of the most regulated in the world, with strict rules on safety, animal welfare and environmental protection which apply to value lines that use assured British produce.
More than 55% of shoppers who do trust UK food that these high standards were the number one reason for doing so. Assurance schemes and labelling play a major role in this confidence, with 69% looking to marques and assurance schemes to ensure that their food is produced to a high quality. British Lion, Red Tractor and Fair Trade are the most recognised among consumers.
Christine Tacon, chair, Red Tractor, said: “With the impact of the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis taking hold, it’s no surprise that confidence in so many aspects of daily life has fallen. While British food continues to be highly trusted, our latest Trust in Food Index shows that as people are forced to trade down into cheaper products, they lose confidence in the way the food is produced.
“That’s understandable – but it’s also unnecessary. Whilst some shoppers now struggle to afford the prime cuts and choice ingredients, if they buy assured British food, the strict regulations on food safety, animal welfare and other aspects of food production, apply equally to value ranges as they do to premium products. We must tackle this before the drop in trust becomes toxic, by making it clear to people doing their shopping.
“Identifying products as assured through schemes like Red Tractor or British Lion can address people’s perception that “cheaper means lower standards. Retailers should play their part by adopting food assurance marques on all applicable value ranges.”
“As an industry, we must work together to reassure people that whatever their price range, they can be confident in the standards and safety of food produced in the UK- people should never have to choose between price and food safety”.
Sir Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby and chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “This report provides valuable insights into the impact that the pandemic, war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living are having on the choices the public face when they buy food – and the trust they have in those choices.
“It is encouraging to see that despite these pressures, overall trust in UK food remains high. This reflects the excellent quality of UK produce and the high animal welfare, safety and environmental standards our food is produced to.
“As the Government looks to grapple with the increased costs that our food producers and consumers face – and the impact this is having on our food security – we may have to revisit the balance we strike between the food we import and the food we grow ourselves. If we are to seek to grow more food ourselves, it will be vital to maintain trust in the UK food system and to ensure that no one has to compromise standards for price. The Red Tractor scheme plays an important role in raising the public’s awareness that our food is produced to high standards.”
Andrew Opie, director of Food and Sustainability, said: “Customers are more price-focused than ever but still expect retailers to deliver high standards in animal welfare and the environment. Red Tractor addresses that challenge, ensuring high standards of UK food production, whilst delivering on value.”
Overall trust in the role of farmers remains high at 77%. However, there has been a decline since the first report, which just over half (52%) believing that farmers are performing well on animal welfare, compared to 59% last year.
Consumers also perceive that farmers are not performing well on issues around climate change, fertilisers, food and plastic waste.
Welfare standards and sustainable production remain key concerns for consumers, with 75% saying that they value good animal welfare standards. 64% value reducing plastic waste, while 60% value the low use of chemical fertilisers in food production. 49% said that labelling indicating which products are sustainably farmed would influence their buying decisions.
However, the research indicated that consumers do not understand much of the terminology relating to farming methods. Two-thirds felt that they could explain organic, but only 49% understood terms such as room to roam.
Brexit and trust outside the UK
The Index found that people believe that Brexit is impacting food, with 26% of respondents saying they felt the quality of UK food has been falling for the last two years. Furthermore, 43% believe that new trade deals will reduce food standards. The US and India are trusted by just 27% and 18% respectively; countries which the Government is seeking trade deals with.
At the other end of the spectrum, Ireland and New Zealand are the most trusted countries, followed by many European and Nordic countries. 58% of consumers look at the country of origin before buying a product.
To what extent do you trust the following organisations?
|Trust in organisation – 2022||Trust in organisation – 2021|
|Water from the tap||79%||81%|
|Local authority services||64%||67%|
|Mobile phone networks||54%||58%|
|The legal system||46%||49%|
|Financial service companies||41%||41%|
|Newspaper, radio and television||32%||30%|
|Gas and electricity supplies||36%||70%|
Levels of trust in food by household income and social group
|Level of trust|
What impact is the increasing cost of food having on purchasing decisions?
|I am buying less meat||30%|
|I am buying lower quality products||24%|
|I am buying less fruit and vegetables||13%|
|I am buying less British food||7%|
How well do UK farmers perform?
|2022 – Net well responses||2021 -Net well responses|
|Contributing to their local communities||41%||52%|
|Impact on local landscape||41%||50%|
|Impact on local wildlife||35%||42%|
|Looking after farm workers||30%||40%|
|Reducing food waste||29%||34%|
|Reducing plastic waste||23%||27%|
|Use of antibiotics in livestock||23%||30%|
|Use of chemical fertilisers||20%||25%|
|Impact on greenhouse gas emissions||23%||27%|
Which of the following terms do you fully understand? I.e. You could confidently explain the term.
|Room to roam||49%|
|None of the above||14%|
To what extent do you trust the food that originates in the following countries?
|Country||Net Trust – 2022||Net Trust – 2021|