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  • ’Omni Consumer’ Emerges
Jul 2007
ARMONK, N.Y., July 13, 2007 -- Recent product contaminations and recalls, along with confusion over marketing claims, have eroded shoppers’ trust in consumer product manufacturers, IBM said this week, citing results from a survey.

The poll of almost 1700 US and UK shoppers showed that nearly 70 percent hold a low overall level of trust in the claims that “branded food products” make about their environmental impact and health benefits. Almost half of consumers are more concerned about safety than previously, and nearly two of every five consumers said they buy different brands today because of these concerns.

Almost 60 percent of respondents said they know more now about the contents of the food they buy than they did two years ago. Still, 72 percent now want even more information about the source, the production methods and the contents of the packaged food products they buy.

In a complementary study, IBM identified a new breed of shopper -- the "Omni consumer" -- that is driving this shift. These consumers are more concerned, watchful and connected than ever.

"While product, packaging and branding are still key, their significance has been topped by a number of other factors," said Bill Gilmour, global consumer products leader, IBM Global Business Services. “The Omni consumer wants products that deliver incremental health and wellness benefits coupled with an understanding of the impact of these products on individuals, society and the environment.”

IBM spokesman Michael Rowinski said the Omni consumer is very much a business-to-business issue.

"As consumers demand transparency, consumer product companies are going to have to find innovative and efficient ways to deliver a greater depth of information," Rowinski said. "The opportunity for your readers is around supplying technology to consumer product companies to better monitor the quality of their food. Also, there are some companies who are using laser etching on products to provide consumers a better way to trace their origins."

For example, Born Free Eggs, of Watertown, Mass., was the first brand to laser-etch expiration dates and numerical codes on eggs to "follow" them from farm to store. This was partly due to caution after the Department of Homeland Security said eggs are among the foods most vulnerable to tampering by terrorists, but it was also a response, the company said in press reports, to consumers demanding that their eggs be organic or come from farms that don't cage chickens. (See also "Food Channel Features Laser")

As a response to those concerns, IBM suggests that companies set themselves apart by adopting "full value traceability" as part of their brand.

"To date, most traceability investments have been driven by regulation," said Tom Peterson, general manager, IBM Consumer Products Industry. "We're recommending our clients expand these initiatives beyond a defensive posture and leverage them for brand empowerment. The era of the Omni Consumer is requiring a deeper commitment to transparency, and the companies who deliver on this will be the clear winners."

The IBM Traceability Survey and Study was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of IBM.

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