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Survey Finds Drought, GMO Stories Drove Consumer Behavior in '12

Year-end recap finds that when the media talks food, consumers listen.

Published on: Dec 19, 2012

According to a recent survey, the Midwest drought, genetically modified organisms and the lean finely textured beef "pink slime" misnomer take the cake for top trends affecting consumers' food purchasing behavior in 2012.

The survey, commissioned by Hunter Public Relations and conducted by Direct Research, Inc., found that 81% of Americans felt coverage of food products were of equal or greater importance than other news stories this year, HPR says.

One of the most mentioned stories of the year that enjoyed significant mainstream and specialty coverage was the Midwest drought. Though of immediate concern to farmers and ranchers, consumers took note too; HPR's survey found that 33% of consumers polled changed their behavior as a result of media coverage by purchasing more canned fruits and vegetables. Seventy percent comparison shopped for the lowest prices.

Year-end recap finds that when the media talks food, consumers listen.
Year-end recap finds that when the media talks food, consumers listen.

"Pink slime," a term that was used in mainstream media to refer to lean finely textured beef, caused a stir this spring and beyond. HPR's survey notes that 34% of consumers purchased or consumed less ground beef, turning to other sources of protein – 53% more chicken, 31% more pork and 27% more fish – as a result of LFTB coverage. What's more, the story may continue to unfold as Beef Products, Inc., a leading producer of lean finely textured beef, recently filed a disinformation suit against media outlet ABC for using the term "pink slime." Additional suits may continue to roll in.

The genetically modified organism debate seemed to hit full steam around election time as California's Proposition 37, which could have paved the way for GMO labeling in states other than California, failed with a narrow margin. Hoards of groups and even corporations joined in the discussion, bringing economic and feasibility questions to light. As a result of the wide coverage of GMO issues, more than three-quarters of those surveyed said they checked labels to determine if food contained GMOS, while more than half began researching GMO issues.

Survey Finds Drought, GMO Stories Drove Consumer Behavior in '12

Graphic courtesy Hunter Public Relations

Though not as significant on the HPR radar, stories covering the new school lunch standards and First Lady Michelle Obama's effort to fight childhood obesity through the "Let's Move" campaign have also prompted consumer action.

The issue of calorie counts and protein amounts in school lunches was examined in January when new standards were announced, and again in August when they were implemented. Just last week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said that changes would be made to the new standards, removing the maximum limit for grains and meat or meat alternate. However, the changes didn't come before consumers reacted, HPR results find. Twenty-five percent of consumers that changed their behavior as a result of school lunch coverage advocated for healthier options, while 9% purchased fewer school lunches for their children.

Kids and health again took center stage frequently as the media delved into childhood obesity issues with First Lady Michelle Obama. Of those who changed their behavior as a result of "Let's Move" coverage, 48% encouraged more exercise of their child or family and 26% changed diets to include healthier foods.

HPR says that in each of the past six years, the study's highest ranked story dealt with food safety or economic issues, rather than trends or fads.

Other food-related stories that consumers took note of: the New York City soda ban and Chick-Fil-A's policies on gay marriage.

To learn more about the survey, click here.