More than 6 in 10 (61 percent) Americans are concerned about the products they put in, on and around their bodies—but a third (34 percent) say they rarely or never research product claims, new research from public health and safety org NSF International reveals. All in all, almost half (46 percent) of Americans say they have purchased a product despite being unsure of the validity of product claims.
The group’s online survey asked Americans about their concerns related to food, dietary supplements, personal care products and home cleaning products, revealing a nearly 50/50 split between people who say product claims are helpful and those who say they are confusing, overwhelming or meaningless.
According to the survey, Americans trust claims tested and certified by independent organizations more than claims made by product manufacturers and brands—suggesting that self-declared claims made by brands and manufacturers without any independent verification may contribute to consumer confusion and mistrust.
“It’s clear that many consumers have questions and concerns about the safety and authenticity of the products they buy, but they don’t always know whom to trust or where to turn for an honest answer,” said Lisa Yakas, senior product certification manager at NSF International, in a news release. “As consumers, we increasingly want brands and marketers to back up their claims with data and to prove products contain only the ingredients that are listed on the label.”
Highlights from the 2019 survey include:
Third-party certification is highly trusted
Across all four product categories, 85 percent trust independent, third-party certification organizations and 78 percent trust claims made by government agencies. Conversely, only 32 percent trust claims made by celebrities and influencers.
Millennials have much greater concern over product safety and younger Americans are generally more trusting of claims made on social media
Nearly three quarters (74 percent) of Millennials are concerned about potentially harmful food and other consumer products. By comparison, only 64 percent of Gen X and 53 percent of Baby Boomers are concerned about the safety of these products. Nearly half of Millennials (48 percent) and half of Gen Xers (51 percent) trust claims on social media.
Men are more likely to trust claims made on social media or by celebrities or influencers
Men are significantly more likely to trust claims on social media (44 percent vs. 31 percent of women), as well as claims made by celebrities or influencers (39 percent vs. 26 percent of women).
Parents have much greater concern over the safety of products they put in, on and around their bodies
Nearly 4 in 5 (79 percent) of parents are concerned, compared to 55 percent of non-parents. Interestingly, 45 percent of parents (compared to just 17 percent of non-parents) admit they have purchased a product despite realizing its claim was invalid.
The findings suggest many consumers are unsure how to research and verify claims for themselves, and may be unaware of third-party certification programs operated by independent organizations and governmental agencies.
The study also drilled down into consumer views of specific product categories and found:
Majority of Americans prioritize food quality over safety
Eighty-one percent of Americans assume the food products they consume adhere to strict safety standards, which may help explain why most consumers focus on food quality over safety. Thirty-six percent rarely or never look at claims made on food items.
Safety of cleaning products is the top priority for most people
Eighty-three percent are more likely to trust a cleaning product with an independent certification, but 48 percent said they did not know cleaning products can receive safety certifications.
Americans may automatically assume that all personal care products are safe
Eighty-one percent assume the personal care products they use adhere to strict quality and safety standards. Additionally, 60 percent of Americans don’t check to see if personal care products adhere to strict quality and safety standards—and 52 percent don’t know that personal care products can be certified.
“Given the complexity of global supply chains and the fact that health and safety standards vary by country, it’s challenging for consumers to conduct their own research into everything they buy,” said Yakas. “Independent third-party certification is the easiest way for consumers to check the safety and authenticity of products and the validity of product label claims.”
From verification of claims like gluten-free, non-GMO and raised without antibiotics to certification of products like dietary supplements, bottled water, drinking water filters and home cleaning products, NSF International tests and certifies more than 30,000 products a year. NSF experts also conduct more than 220,000 audits and inspections of manufacturing facilities worldwide each year.
“When consumers see the NSF mark on a package, they can be sure the product has gone through extensive testing and review for potential health and safety risks as well as testing for the accuracy of label claims,” Yakas said.
As a global public health organization, NSF International’s mission is to protect and improve human health—protecting the food you eat, the water you drink, the health care products you use and the environment we all share.
An independent research firm conducted the survey on behalf of NSF International among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans living in the continental United States. The survey was fielded between February 20 – March 1, 2019 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.