Annual Food News Study Reveals Midwest Drought and “Pink Slime” Made Consumers Think Twice

In a year dominated by news of political elections, the economy and the Olympic Games, food-related stories still rank among the most significant of 2012. According to the annual Food News Study commissioned by Hunter Public Relations, one of the nation’s leading food and beverage public relations agencies, in partnership with Digital Research, Inc. (DRI), 81% of Americans felt coverage of food products and the companies that make them are of equal or greater importance than other news stories this year.

Now in its tenth year, the Hunter PR Food News Study provides a look back at the top food-related stories of each year. To compile the 2012 list, Hunter PR collaborated with industry experts to help cull and refine the list of stories that made the biggest impact on Americans. After polling 1,000 Americans, the following three food-related stories – and the effects they had on consumer behavior – were named the most significant of 2012:

No. 1: Midwest Drought and Rise in Crop Prices
As a result of a drought that some experts ranked among the worst since the great dust bowl days, prices soared on everyday food items, including produce, meat and shelf-stable products, during already tenuous financial times for many Americans. Food News Study participants ranked this story the most important of the year (with 43% ranking it No. 1) reporting that the rise in prices at the supermarket forced them to comparison shop, use more coupons, and purchase less fresh products and more canned foods.

No. 2: “Pink Slime” in Beef Products
The moniker “pink slime” gained traction among news outlets, watchdog groups and consumers in 2012. And with boycotts of products made with “pink slime,” many of the plants using this process were forced to shut down and hundreds of jobs were lost. Study respondents ranked the “pink slime” controversy as the second-most important story of the year, and resulted in consumers purchasing and consuming more chicken, fish and pork, and seeking out a higher grade of beef products at retailers.

No. 3: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Food that contains GMOs was a hot button, polarizing issue this year – and the third most-important story of 2012, according to the study. All consumer packaged goods were held to a higher level of scrutiny as Americans became more interested in and cognizant of food ingredients. The news coverage of GMOs had consumers more frequently checking the labels of the food they buy, researching the subject matter themselves and ceasing to purchase products that include GMOs.

Historically, Hunter PR’s Food News Study has provided insights into the attitudes of consumers and how they view the media’s coverage of important food stories. In each of the past six years, the study’s highest-ranked story dealt either with food safety or economic issues, rather than trends, fads or sensational news. The results from this year’s study were aligned. Many sensational stories widely covered by the media didn’t rank high in importance with consumers. For example, while there was significant awareness of the Chick-fil-A’s gay marriage controversy (the highest awareness of any story at 70%), only 31% of respondents ranked it as important. Conversely, while the GMO story ranked low in overall awareness (at 28%), over 65% of those aware ranked it as important or very important.

The study also revealed:

  • No matter what story or controversy is currently dominating the headlines, an overwhelming number of respondents believe that people need to take responsibility for what they eat (80% – the highest percentage of any question asked in the survey)
  • 35% believe America has a serious food safety issue
  • Over 30% believe there is too much conflicting information about food and nutrition to make healthy choices
  • Among overall priorities, food ranked solidly in the middle, beating out both sleep and work, but falling well below the importance of family and love

Visit for the complete list of the 10 most significant food stories of 2012 ranked by importance and impact on consumer behavior.

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