- Many consumers will go back to buying their favorite item in as little as one week from when the product returns to stores after a recall, according to a new study by Category Partners sent to Food Dive. About 49% of respondents said they will buy a bakery item and 45% would purchase a meat item within a week of the product's return to the shelves.
- Respondents seemed to be least forgiving when it came to seafood with only 38% saying they would buy a recalled seafood product within a week of its return to shelves. About 4% of consumers will never buy a produce item again after a recall and 7% will only buy after waiting several months.
- The study also found shoppers in the South and Northeast are more likely to buy recalled items quicker. Consumers also are more forgiving with recalls because more than half of respondents age 44 or younger said they would buy produce, meat, deli and bakery products within a week or less.
There have been some high profile food recalls. From wood chips in chicken to E. coli in ground beef and romaine lettuce, food contamination doesn't discriminate. This study is likely welcome news for foods that have been battered by recalls during the last few years. As recalls increase, food companies become concerned about the impact they will have on perception of their products in the long term, but looking at this study, these businesses might not have to worry as much.
Each industry is different in terms of how fast a consumer will be willing to try a product again. Produce and bakery rank the highest in terms of how quickly shoppers will pick them back up. Meat and deli come in second with 45% of consumers purchasing both within a week of them returning to shelves. Seafood came in last with 38% of consumers willing to repurchase within the week. Seafood, in particular, has the largest percentage, 22%, who will either wait months or decide to never buy the product again.
But this study conflicts with some previous research. Other studies have shown the damage of a recall can reach much further than direct sales. A joint industry study by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association estimated the average cost of a recall for food companies to be $10 million in direct costs, plus brand damage and lost sales.
The romaine lettuce recall shows how difficult a contamination can be to the industry. Retailers, restaurants and other commercial outlets were asked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last November to voluntarily pull from the market and destroy any romaine lettuce.
The removal of romaine lettuce was particularly damaging to the grocery industry because of the timing just before Thanksgiving, the large quantity of the product pulled and the expense to stores — including labor costs, lost sales and time spent dealing with the crisis, according to Hilary Thesmar, senior vice president of food safety for the Food Marketing Institute.
"Every single retailer we've talked to, the losses are in the millions," Thesmar told Food Dive at the time. "The economic impact is huge."
Curiously, parents are more likely to repurchase a product after it comes back on shelves than non-parents. Perhaps this is because in some cases, feeding children requires familiar products to be on the plate, which can often cause parents to be loyal to a brand that their child insists on consuming.
Manufacturers should take note because even though lost sales are the most direct consequence of a recall, brand equity loss is often the most expensive and long lasting. While this cost may be the hardest to quantify, there is no question that a recall can damage a brand or company’s reputation and level of trust in the eyes of consumers.
Johnson & Johnson is the often cited as the textbook example of how to do a recall after its Tylenol capsules were laced with cyanide in 1982, killing seven people in the Chicago area. The company quickly recalled the product and urged consumers not to use it. While it cost it millions of dollars, it showed J&J valued consumer safety over profits.
Transparency and communication can help mitigate the damage. If a manufacturer is fully transparent and proactive about handling the recall, consumers may recognize that it is doing its best to keep them safe and healthy, an effort that will likely be rewarded by purchases when a product reappears on shelves.