Every inch of space is booked at the International Green Week trade show, and the aisles are full of visitors. Judging from all the hustle and bustle, the industry couldn’t be healthier,
But the impression is misleading. German consumers are more concerned than ever about what they’re eating and drinking.
After the mad cow disease, rotten meat scandals, dioxin contamination and the recently discovered turkey meat at discount stores with antibiotic resistant germs, they’re asking themselves: Is our food healthy or making us sick?
According to a survey conducted by the University of Göttingen, more than half of Germans are worried their food could be threatening their health. And almost three-fourths of them feel they’re being misled or even tricked by the information on packaging. More than half said they understood “unsweetened” to mean no sweeteners.
All too often, manufacturers “exaggerate contents on the label,” said Klaus Müller, head of the federation of German consumer organizations. Almost half of all foods, he noted, advertise health benefits on their packaging, such as “rich in Vitamin C,” which isn’t the case. In a random sampling conducted for the association, 22 of 46 products were found to have inflated health claims.
“All too often, manufacturers exaggerate contents on the label.”
The Göttingen study also showed 38 percent of those surveyed believed the media exaggerates the risks of food. Not surprisingly, the food industry agrees. The media are “stirring up fear,” said Christoph Minhoff, the head lobbyist of the food industry.
Last week, an alliance of associations, manufacturers and distributors in Germany launched an animal welfare initiative, aimed at developing a system for better poultry and hog husbandry. The grocery chains Rewe, Edeka, Aldi and Lidl are participating.
Under the initiative, food retailers will pay four euro cents per sold kilogram of meat to a fund for animal welfare, which gives breeders a subsidy in return. The scheme is expected to generate €85 million ($98 million) this year and noticeably improve conditions for up to 8 million hogs, 300 million chickens and 15 million turkeys.
Video: Grüne Woche 2015 visitors in the fair’s halls.
From a consumer perspective, the direction is clear – better animal husbandry and more organic foods. But major food suppliers such as Nestlé, Unilever and Mondelez have yet to fully embrace the organic food trend. They still see organic foods as a niche market despite their growing popularity, preferring instead to produce cheaply for mass markets.
Large German food retailers are filling this gap with their own organic brands, such as Rewe Bio, and Netto’s “BioBio.”
From a consumer perspective, the direction is clear – better animal husbandry and more organic foods
The DM drug store chain has also entered the market, with its own line of organic produces. The chain is already successful with its natural cosmetics line, Alverde, which has stolen considerable market share from conventional products.
Organic producers are often innovative in attracting their customers. Dairy producer Andechser was one of the first to bring yogurt sweetened with Stevia onto the market.
And some companies simply see greater profit margins with health food. Among them is the Netherland’s Royal Wessanen, one of the oldest food companies in the world, which is repositioning its entire range of products as organic, health-food products.
As important as the debate about healthy food is, Thilo Bode, founder of the organization Foodwatch, warned that the most common causes of death worldwide are the non-contagious, often diet-related illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. “The World Health Organization,” he said,” equates Big Food with Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol.”