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Underwriters Laboratories UL

Quality Insider

The 2012 Product Mindset

A UL report executive summary

Published: Friday, December 7, 2012 - 10:23

Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a global safety science company, has released its annual global survey on manufacturers’ and consumers’ perceptions of products, whether they are making and selling them or buying and consuming them. Here are some of the key findings from this report.

Optimism gives way to realism

A significant difference from last year’s mindset is the evolution from positivity and confidence to pragmatism and realism. In 2011, the product mindset revealed that manufacturers were certain about their performance, while consumers were optimistic about product quality. In 2012, we’ve seen both groups shift to a more realistic attitude.
• 87 percent of manufacturers agree that government regulations are increasingly stringent.
• 90 percent of manufacturers are convinced that innovation is becoming more important.
• 75 percent of manufacturers think that consumers are more concerned about the ethical and fair treatment of workers at all levels of the supply chain.
• 42 percent of consumers strongly believe that manufacturers need to improve product quality.

A sophisticated understanding of safety

Consumers have a more nuanced understanding of safety-related issues.
• Food safety and the safety of home-building materials are of more concern to consumers than the safety of high-tech consumer electronics or smart appliances.
• Foodborne illness and chemical additives are the top concerns for food safety; toxin emissions are the top safety concern for home-building materials; online security is the top issue for high-tech electronics; and malfunctions while sleeping or away are the top safety concerns for smart appliances.

Quality is imperative

Certainty is being demanded by both manufacturers and consumers, and this certainty is being delivered through quality.
• Manufacturers appear to closely link quality, performance, and reliability.
• During the next two to three years, manufacturers cite quality as having the biggest effect on their ability to compete by a margin of 2 to 1. In 2011, innovation was ranked highest (although quality was not a choice last year).
• Quality is the No. 1 reason consumers select the products they buy across all product categories—vs. other options such as cost, features, brand name, and design.
• 91 percent of manufacturers believe that performance testing is becoming more important.

Safety continues to be fundamental

Across categories and regions, safety continues to be a crucial consideration for both manufactures and consumers. This year’s prevailing uncertainty and instability may have made safety a more important consideration as a way to counter fear, ambiguity, and anxiety.
• 73 percent of manufacturers strongly agree that product safety is becoming more important, and 82 percent strongly agree that product safety affects their ability to compete.
• 89 percent of manufacturers agree that consumers are becoming more aware and better educated, 87 percent that government regulations are becoming more stringent, 87 percent that consumer confidence in product safety is increasing, and 83 percent that consumers are requesting more safety information.
• Only 36 percent of consumers strongly believe that manufacturers conduct thorough enough product-safety testing before introducing new products to the market.
• 59 percent of consumers agree overall that manufacturers value sales more than product safety.

The environment advances

Environmental focus, depicted last year as more desired than imperative, has moved forward. Although the environment has not supplanted product quality or safety as a fundamental consideration, it has progressed as a fundamental consideration. Both manufacturers and consumers seem more sophisticated about their thinking related to the environment and are more aware of its importance.
• Between 80 percent and 90 percent of manufacturers agree that sustainability-related factors are essential to the success of their business (Chinese and Indian manufacturers more so than those in Germany and the United States).
• 53 percent of manufacturers state that consumers are demanding more eco-friendly products at the same cost as products that are not eco-friendly.
• More than half of consumers in India and China are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products, while only 37 percent and 33 percent in the United States and Germany, respectively, are willing to pay more.

The essential supply chain

Manufacturers are focusing on their supply chains as a response to the complexity and shifting desires of the marketplace. Simultaneously, supply chains are more complex, global, and difficult to control, and consumers and the media have access to information about supply chains like never before.
• 76 percent of manufacturers believe global sourcing is a means to improve product quality, which is a 19-percent increase from what manufacturers noted last year, reflecting manufacturers’ need to enhance competitiveness in a volatile and financially challenged global marketplace. The global differences include 87 percent to 88 percent of Chinese and Indian manufacturers viewing global sourcing as improving quality, while 71 percent of German and only 57 percent of U.S. manufacturers viewed global sourcing as improving quality.
• 46 percent of manufacturers will be sourcing more from other countries during the next five years; of these, 79 percent will add countries from which they source rather than replace their existing sources with new ones.

Ingredients matter

There is an increasing awareness on components’ role in product quality among both consumers and manufacturers.
• 68 percent of manufacturers report that it is very important to clearly show consumers what ingredients or components are included in their products.
• Only 30 percent of consumers strongly believe that manufacturers use the best possible ingredients, raw materials, or components in the products they buy.

Origin is critical

Sourcing is more international than ever before, often as a means for manufacturers to both reduce costs and improve quality. Consumers are increasingly aware of this globalization and often wary of associated potential risks.
• 57 percent of consumers are aware of the country in which the products they purchase are manufactured.
• Both manufacturers and consumers from across the globe rate the quality of sourced materials from developed countries as superior to those from developing countries.


In conclusion, the 2012 Product Mindset can be largely understood as a quest for certainty in an uncertain world. Quality, safety, and the environment were affirmed as priorities, and the ultimate impact is seen through the supply chain, where global sourcing and an emphasis on ingredients and components demonstrate that where a product is made, how it’s made, and what is in it are becoming paramount.


About The Author

Underwriters Laboratories UL’s picture

Underwriters Laboratories UL

Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) is a global independent safety science company offering expertise across five key strategic businesses: Product Safety, Environment, Life & Health, Knowledge Services, and Verification Services. UL’s worldwide family of companies and network of service providers includes 64 laboratory, testing and certification facilities serving customers in 96 countries.