Consumer confidence is shaken every time there is a meat recall, but they usually start eating meat again once they receive the all clear, at least in North America.
“People tend to return to their past consumption,” said agriculture economist John Cranfield from the University of Guelph, who examined the effects on demand following Canadian Food Inspection Agency initiated recalls between 1998 and 2010.
Beef demand is an indication of consumers’ willingness to buy, and refers to how much beef will be consumed at a given price. Most consumer studies show price is the most important consideration among shoppers, but safety and quality are ranked next.
Canfax commissioned the study, which evaluated national impacts on a quarterly basis. It did not look at individual shoppers’ reaction to a food recall, even though the opinions of the person buying and cooking the food are influential.
“The perception of the food shopper of the home is a very important thing,” he said.
“That shapes everything that goes into the shopping cart or what goes on the table.”
The study calculated that a one percent increase in beef recalls leads to a 0.037 percent decrease in Canadian beef demand.
In terms of volume, it means a 2,260 tonne reduction in beef consumption per quarter with a value of about $26.5 million at the retail level. This is the equivalent to a one percent drop in consumer beef expenditures.
Pork recalls reduced demand for pork but had no impact on beef or chicken demand.
Chicken recalls had a negative impact on beef sales and a positive change for pork, but no difference in poultry demand.
Recalls in the United States did not have a measurable impact on Canadian beef demand.
Cranfield said it is hard to determine how long consumers might reject a product, but some U.S. statistics show a downturn could drag on for three quarters of a year.
However, food recalls in Europe or Asia may influence people to stay away from a product for a long time or abandon it altogether.
Although no beef was recalled in the BSE crisis of 2003, the disease’s impact had a major impact among certain consumers. Beef consumption actually improved in Canada as widespread publicity assured people the product was safe to eat.
That was not the case in Japan, where consumption fell by more than 50 percent when it was diagnosed in 2001.
“BSE left Japan reeling,” Cranfield said. “In Japan, consumption patterns don’t always revert. That is a permanent change.”
Consumer surveys after the listeria recall involving Maple Leaf Foods in 2008 found that many consumers said they no longer bought prepared lunchmeats. It did not last.
“People revert back into their previous consumption patterns,” Cranfield said.
The study found that there were no recalls during some quarters, but there was a spike in 2008. In addition, there are more recalls in pork and beef, although that might be partly connected to increased surveillance and better detection methods since mid-2008.
This study did not include consumer reaction after the XL Foods beef recall in Brooks, Alta., because full data was not available at the time.
The full report may be read at www.beefresearch.ca/files/pdf/fact-sheets/canadian_beef_demand_response_to_food_safety_quality_cranfield_sept2013.pdf.