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Report shows grocery industry misunderstands animal welfare claims

Sales from animal welfare-certified products have increased over past three years.

A new grocery industry report conducted by foodservice insights firm Technomic and co-authored by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) shows that supermarket industry decision-makers are motivated to stock products with claims and certifications that indicate better animal welfare and are seeing the benefits of doing so through strong sales. However, it also revealed that supermarket decision-makers largely do not understand the differences between animal welfare claims – which are unverified and often undefined – and animal welfare certifications – which are verified and backed by audits and robust standards.

"We are encouraged by the fact that retailers are responding to consumers' demand for products that promise better animal welfare," said Nancy Roulston, director of corporate engagement for the ASPCA Farm Animal Welfare Campaign. "However, this survey reveals confusion about which labels and claims are meaningful and which are empty marketing – fueling further confusion for shoppers and creating an environment ripe for 'welfare washing.' It is critical that retailers recognize which animal welfare claims are meaningful and relay that knowledge to their shoppers."

Stocking products with animal welfare statements

The report, "Understanding Retailers' Animal Welfare Priorities," which is based on the results of a nationally representative survey and qualitative interviews with supermarket decision-makers conducted by Technomic, explored retailers' stocking practices and sales trends of animal products with welfare claims.

Key findings included:

  • The vast majority of retailers report they already stock products with one or more claims to do with animal welfare.
  • Between 40% and 50% of retailers report stocking products with verified animal welfare certifications, compared to 71% stocking unverified "all natural" products.
  • More than 70% of those who say they are already stocking products with verified animal welfare certifications report that sales from these products have increased over the past three years -- a level of reported success similar to that of more mainstream claims like "all-natural" and "organic."
  • More than 30% of those surveyed are interested in stocking more products specifically describing humane treatment of animals.

Retailers misunderstand animal welfare concepts

The report also surveyed retail decision-makers on their understanding of a comprehensive list of animal welfare-related claims. Respondents indicated both how well they understood each claim and whether they felt that each claim guaranteed significant benefits for farm animal welfare. The survey showed:

  • Only around 40% of respondents felt that they had a "very good" understanding of any unique animal welfare claim.
  • Respondents considered many unverified or meaningless claims like "natural" and "hormone-free" to have strong animal welfare assurances, sometimes considering them more highly than verified welfare certification programs such as Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved and Global Animal Partnership.
  • For example, 95% of supermarket industry decision-makers felt that "cage-free" was a strong animal welfare claim for chicken meat products, although cages are not used to raise chickens for meat.

"Food retailers of all types are facing challenges in adapting to a changing marketplace. Most are working hard to meet these challenges of quickly evolving shopper behavior and mounting financial pressures. In turn, only a select group have the resources available for proactive, ongoing education around claims and certifications. While many anticipate a strong opportunity for products with certified animal welfare claims, it is clear that the extent of that opportunity will be tied to having easy access to accurate information that will help build their understanding and that of their shoppers," Technomic principal Wade Hanson said.

TAGS: Management
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