Age Matters in Food CommunicationsPerceptions of Food Safety Vary by Demographic
November 20, 2020
There is no denying that COVID-19 has reshaped the way many consumers approach selecting and purchasing their food. According to a G&S snap poll conducted in April 2020 and then again last month, Americans have increased their engagement in many activities during the pandemic, including worrying about who may have touched their food, spending time thinking about where their food comes from, avoiding specific foods because of contamination fears and purchasing groceries for delivery and pickup.
While these responsive actions won’t likely surprise you, consumer perceptions potentially driving these and other actions related to food may.
Higher Risk Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Greater Concern
According to the CDC, adults aged 65 to 74 are at five times greater risk of hospitalization and 90 times greater risk of death from COVID-19 than adults aged 18 to 29. Age is an independent risk factor – but, among older adults, risk is also related to the increased likelihood of underlying medical conditions that can result in complications with COVID-19.
Our October 2020 snap poll, conducted across a representative sample of 1,041 U.S. adults (aged 18+), revealed that, despite these well-publicized statistics and the recommendations to take extra precautions against COVID-19, only 7 percent of adults over the age of 60 surveyed are extremely concerned about contracting coronavirus through the food they eat. Almost 20 percent, however, of adults aged 18 to 29 are extremely concerned.
Responses also showed that the coronavirus has made 25% of adults aged 18 to 29 more comfortable with the use of biotechnology to improve food, while only 11% of adults over the age of 60 said they are more comfortable. Moreover, while older audiences (aged 60+) placed a below-average level of importance on buying organic food, the youngest audience (aged 18-29) reported that purchasing organic food holds above-average importance to them.
The poll results cannot explain for certain why these sentiments exist, but they do offer guidance as to which messages may resonate best among different age groups for companies invested in food production, packaging and safety. Evaluating consumer insights and tailoring messaging to various target audiences can improve uptake and drive purchase consideration for well-positioned food brands.
Capitalize on Consumer Favorability with Catered Messaging
When Gallup released its annual survey of industry rankings, the poll revealed that, for the first time ever in the survey’s history, farming and agriculture had risen to the top spot in terms of favorability among American consumers, with the grocery industry taking second place. In a recent G&S blog post, my colleague Steve Halsey urged that the time is now to share the story of agriculture. Insights like these can help companies determine the best way to tell that story to various audiences.
For instance, messages around the benefits of biotechnology may resonate more strongly among older adults, while communications about the safety measures at agricultural companies in growing, processing and retailing food products may resonate more strongly with younger adults. Messages about organic food, too, may be most effective in driving sales among a younger target demographic, a valuable insight that can inform decisions about tone, word choice and delivery channel.
As communicators, we have an opportunity to capitalize on the shift in perceptions due to COVID-19 – and a responsibility to tell the story of how companies are positively reshaping the future of agriculture through a continued commitment to food safety. By understanding our audiences and how their preferences deviate along demographic lines, we can better understand how to shape messages that resonate and that engage them with the industry as both the supply chain and its end consumers evolve.
This G&S Snap Poll was administered online in October 2020 to a representative U.S. sample of 1,041 adults aged 18. The sample has been balanced for age and gender based on the Census Bureau’s American Community survey to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S.