Regaining Consumer Trust in the Food and Beverage Industry

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Consumers are losing confidence in the food chain. Here’s how to build it back

KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • Consumer confusion around manufacturing innovations has led to public distrust; well-publicised food scandals also diminish consumer confidence.
  • In order to sustain 8.5 billion people by the year 2030, transparency and regulation in the food and beverage industry must be prioritised now, before this unprecedented growth. 
  • To build back consumer trust, manufacturers can take a multipronged approach, including: increasing processing transparency; using sustainable and understandable ingredients; relying on science-backed claims; embracing unique offering and obstacles and examining processes from seed to shelf.

KerryDigest Full Scoop:

With taste and nutrition built in to most foods and beverages, consumers have set their sights on a new must-have product attribute: trust. Skepticism and distrust are at an all-time high among the people we nourish, thanks in part to guarded manufacturing techniques and highly publicised food frauds and scandals. As we seek to feed a growing number of consumers—the planet is projected to have 8.5 billion people living on it by 2030—it’s vital that we as an industry reevaluate the transparency and safety of our processes. Here’s a look why trust has disappeared from the food and beverage industry as well as a guided plan to remedy public perception and earn back consumer confidence.  

The Dissolution of Food Trust

It used to be that food was trusted simply because it sat on a store shelf. But today, many consumers question everything about a product—from ingredients and place of origin to working conditions—and for good reason.

As films, books and blogs reveal the inner workings of the food and beverage industry, consumers have begun to question whether corporations put more value on economic gains or customer wellbeing. With social media, those critical or skeptical of the industry are able to post their thoughts and questions loudly and clearly.

The worldwide shift to clean label, which is inspiring consumers of all ages, origins and socioeconomic backgrounds to seek out healthy, natural, safe and affordable foods and beverages, grew at least in part from this cultural shift; it also gained traction with the various food scandals that have swept the world, from horsemeat passed off as beef to tainted spinach and eggs.

Consumer choices are also impacted by broader issues, including wanting to enjoy tasty food that doesn’t cost the earth. Consumers are beginning to question the way food and beverage production, distribution and packaging may negatively impact the environment, including pollution, excessive waste, product deterioration and overuse of natural resources. These concerns—in addition to questions about the treatment of animals raised for consumption and the treatment of workers on farms and in factories—are also inspiring greater calls for transparency.

Of course, underneath it all, people also want convenience and ease. Rather than making big shifts in their diets, most consumers instead are turning to big brands, asking for their participation in practices deemed good for all. When food and beverage companies deliver on these, public perception shifts. To learn more, see the infographic "Food Trust by the Numbers."

Repairing Relationships with Consumers

Trust is a relationships indicator. It’s also the new primary marketplace value. Gone are the days of fantastical attributes, with consumers reaching for over-the-top health claims. As consumers orient to a greater world view, food and beverage choice has become about investing in companies and products that are trustworthy and socially responsible. This hunger for information has grown so great that 94% of U.S. consumers say they would be loyal to manufacturers that adopt complete transparency. This doesn't mean all consumers are demanding bottles of fresh juice that cost €7—this sort of indulgence is for a minority. The majority are pragmatic about making good choices that are cupboard- and wallet-friendly.

As your company works to build or rebuild trust with consumers, here are 5 areas to gain momentum:

  • Creating Source Transparency

    Consumers don’t want you to simply say you’re doing the right thing. They want you to show them. If your chickens are cage-free, offer up a live cam that shows your hens pecking around the yard. If your vanilla comes from Kerry, promote our small-scale partner farmers who use traditional farming methods in Madascar. If your products can sport seals such as Organic or Non-GMO Project, add them prominently to your packaging; if not, consider making the investment to qualify for these. Because of the lack of trust in the marketplace, consumers are increasingly seeking out products verified by third-party sources.

  • Upholding Production Standards

    One obvious way to strengthen consumer trust is to avoid scandals. By establishing and maintaining high levels of regulatory and quality control, companies have a greater chance of avoiding some of the public mistakes that have led to this predicament. This also provides a chance to innovate processes, making changes that lead to less waste, increased efficiency, better labor practices and greater overall sustainability. Here are three ways your company can elevate product standards and create pressure on the industry for a global elevation of quality:  

    • Have food safety, food security and quality management systems and occupational health and safety management systems certified according to the requirements of international standards.
    • Engage with trade associations, actively taking part in shaping standards and guidelines for the industry and in promoting best practices.
    • Engage with trade associations to work with governmental bodies in the framing of laws to ensure the high quality products.
  • Making Science-backed Claims

    Consumers are confused and feel disempowered by the food industry. They have to dig deep to verify whether or not health claims are true and are increasingly turning to social media to interrogate companies. By showing the science behind a product’s health claims, you’ll increase trust and position yourself into the desirable categories of better-for-you and prescriptive nutrition. Substance is trumping style in the marketplace, and consumers are willing to pay a premium for products with proven benefits.

  • Embracing Imperfection: Waste is the New Taste

    One interesting but not wholly surprising shift in the marketplace is the adoption of an attitude of imperfection. Whereas pristine products dominated from the 1980s to the early 2000s, consumers are embracing economy and pragmatism, whether in the creation of clothing made of recycled plastic bottles or the “wonky” fruits and vegetables delivered by services like Oddbox. Telling authentic and honest stories about the challenges your company has faced—including innovative solutions or acceptance of outcomes—is another way to earn trust. Is your pizza dough an ugly brown because of all of the extra grains you’ve managed to add? Don’t hide it—flaunt it. Although unprecedented, it’s now possible to not only show your freak flag in the food industry, but you may gain traction by actively waving it high.

  • Building a Chain of Trust

    Fair trade is no longer enough. Consumers want an entire “fair trade chain”—a complete picture of how a product develops from concept to consumption, including visibility of the people, places and processes involved. Although worldwide investment in blockchain technologies across categories is projected to reach $2.1B in 2018 and $9.7B by 2021, we are a long way from having a fully transparent and traceable food supply. Alibaba, the monolithic Chinese ecommerce site, only just launched its first blockchain pilot project in food, tracking a small number of products imported from New Zealand and Australian, and they’re steps ahead of most other retailers. But, with purchasing decisions increasingly influenced by perceptions of trustworthiness, food companies that make the extra effort toward greater seed-to-shelf traceablilty are almost sure to reap rewards in the marketplace.

Ultimately, there is no sinlge thing a food and beverage company can do to restore trust—it’s really about doing all of the things, starting now, and being authentic in the sharing of your progress. Kerry is helping manufacturers develop better end-to-end visibility in ingredients. To learn more, contact Kerry.

See the infographic, "Food Trust by the Numbers

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