NSF International, Ann Arbor, Mich., released a new study showing 61% of Americans are concerned about the products they put in, on and around their bodies. However, 34% say they rarely or never research product claims. And, almost half (46%) of Americans say they have purchased a product despite being unsure of the validity of product claims.

The online survey conducted in February polled a representative sample of 1,000 Americans about their concerns related to food, among other non-food items. The survey reveals a nearly a 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. These findings suggest 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,” says Lisa Yakas, senior product certification manager. “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 survey include:

  • Third-party certification is highly trusted. Across all four product categories, 85% trust independent, third-party certification organizations and 78% trust claims made by government agencies. Conversely, only 32% trust claims made by celebrities and influencers.
  • 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% vs. 31% of women), as well as claims made by celebrities or influencers (39% vs. 26% of women).
  • Millennials have greater concern over product safety, and younger Americans are generally more trusting of claims made on social media. 74% of Millennials are concerned about potentially harmful food and other consumer products. By comparison, only 64% of Gen X and 53% of Baby Boomers are concerned about the safety of these products. Nearly half of Millennials (48%) and half of Gen Xers (51%) trust claims on social media.
  • Parents have greater concern over the safety of products they put in, on and around their bodies. 79% of parents are concerned compared to 55% of non-parents. Interestingly, 45% of parents (compared to just 17% 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. 81% 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. 36% rarely or never look at claims made on food items.

“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,” says 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.

Survey methodology
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 Feb. 20-March 1, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence.