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Report Finds Critical Gaps Between Manufacturer and Consumer Priorities

Ninety percent of manufacturers agree that the environment is becoming more important, but 40 percent of consumers think manufacturers are not doing enough in terms of environmentally friendly manufacturing procedures or products, according to a study by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

The Product Mindset examines manufacturer and consumer perceptions about how products are made, sold, bought and consumed. This year’s report claims misalignment is occurring between the two stakeholder groups in what is expected or desired and what is being delivered.

Some of the noteworthy gaps include:

  • Product quality dominates. While many issues play an important role with manufacturers, it is clear from the data that product quality consistently dominates in terms of its importance and appears to be an area where there is a sizable gap in consumer confidence. Manufacturers in both developed and emerging markets rank quality as highly important; however, the majority of consumers indicate they feel manufacturers use the lowest-cost materials regardless of quality.

  • Health impact is a rising priority. While the environmental impact of products and manufacturer processes is still important for both consumers and manufacturers, the health impact of products emerged as the top rising priority for consumers. A gap in priorities can be seen in how they view environmental products: Manufacturers see the impact to the environment as more important than the impact to human health but, for consumers, the health impact is more important.

  • Improvement is desired in transparency and traceability. With globalization a key factor adding to the complexity of manufacturer and consumer considerations, issues such as transparency and traceability are increasingly important. While manufacturers understand that there is a demand and desire for supply chain transparency and traceability, consumers don’t believe manufacturers are doing enough in these areas.

Now in its third year, UL says the study provides insights about the ways manufacturers and consumers think and feel about the products they make, sell, purchase and use. In reviewing a broader range of subjects this year, including supply chain issues and human health concerns, critical gaps between manufacturer and consumer priorities emerged.

“Our research provides insight into what we believe is a tremendous opportunity for businesses in the coming years,” said UL CEO Keith Williams. “For example, in better understanding gaps in priorities, manufacturers can uncover new ways to engage consumers in a dialogue around how their products are made and sourced to provide greater peace of mind.”

The study was based on respondents in the United States, China, India, Germany and Brazil, and highlighted some of the characteristics of a more complex global marketplace. It found that while fundamentals such as quality, safety and innovation remain the most important factors driving behavior for manufacturers and consumers, a number of priorities such as transparency, health impact and outsourcing/country of origin are on the rise.

While gaps identified potential opportunities for manufacturers, there were areas of alignment and an overall sense of optimism prevalent in the research. Manufacturers and consumers feel conditions are beginning to improve, and the number of manufacturers who feel it is easier to be profitable rose 23 percent over 2012. A growing number of consumers feel respected by manufacturers and are more positive about overall improvement in product quality.

In 2012, UL’s Product Mindset report found that consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about global supply chain issues, including where products and their components are made and whether global manufacturers and their suppliers are providing ethical working environments for employees.

The gaps identified in the 2013 Product Mindset echo those found in Brandlogic and CRD Analytics' 2012 Sustainability Leadership Report, which highlighted the disconnect between companies' actual sustainability performance and consumers' perceptions of it.

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