US consumers feel they don’t know enough about where their food comes from, and how it’s grown and produced—and that knowledge gap could be creating mistrust of retail food products.
Food experts at market think-tank Sullivan Higdon and Sink (SHS) have taken a close look at Americans’ perception of the food supply, particularly their views on where their edibles come from and the processes involved in food production. Erika Chance, senior FoodThink researcher at SHS, spoke with FoodProductionDaily about the information uncovered in the firm’s “Emerging Faith in Food Production” study, and how food firms can do a better job of gaining the public’s trust.
You found only 31% of consumers feel food firms are transparent about food production practices. What are some ways companies can shed some light on the subject, and share that information with consumers?
While unfortunately there is still some distrust of the food industry, our recent FoodThink study showed consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and many say there are several things food companies can do to earn their trust.
Our study examined a couple of ways food marketers can build trust. The following shows the percent of consumers who agree that these methods would build trust in food producers:
Better labeling of key production and nutritional information: 56%
“Where was your product grown?” “How long ago was in harvested?” These are just some of the questions labeling could answer to help consumers understand more about the product they’re buying.
Public tours of farms and/or food production facilities: 50%.
FoodThink research has also suggested consumers who visit farms have more trust in the food industry. While it may not be feasible to take every consumer on a tour, consider using videos, photographs, or illustrations on your website that would help explain the food production process.
A website honestly answering food production questions: 43%
Consider allowing consumers to submit their top questions and then answer them in a straightforward, easy to understand manner. Having an FAQ or Q&A format is a conversational approach to addressing these issues.
Company leaders appearing on new program to explain how food is produced: 33%
Beyond utilizing a website or packaging to answer questions, people want to hear from people; consumers want to see and hear from the actual people that make their food. Remember to use actual employees, not hired actors, to help tell your story.
Can you share any examples of food firms that are being open and transparent, in a way that connects with consumers?
More and more, there are great examples of food companies who are choosing to be more open about their production practices.
McDonald’s Canada is one company working towards transparency; they’ve launched a website called “Our Food, Your Questions” where they routinely answer consumer-submitted questions. One of their most recent videos answers the question of whether or not chicken McNuggets actually contain chicken (and the answer is yes).
Cargill, one of the world’s leading beef producers (and an SHS client) is also making concerted efforts towards transparency. As a result of consumer feedback, Cargill recently announced it would begin labeling its products made with finely textured beef. To be more transparent and answer any questions, Cargill also launched a website, GroundBeefAnswers.com.
The debate over beef labeling started around another beef producer’s product that was criticized in the news. To be more transparent and answer any questions, Cargill also launched a website, GroundBeefAnswers.com.
Could you give any more specifics about the areas that might be cause for concern with consumers?
We hypothesize consumers are only hearing negative stories related to terms like pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones, without understanding the other points of view and some of the benefits of these practices. If the industry continues to help educate consumers, it’s possible to see some softening on these issues and improved trust in the industry.
Are consumers ‘voting with their wallets’ (i.e. spending more on companies with a natural bent, or that are more open about their processes) in your observation?
There is definitely interest in learning more about food production. Well-known companies that have posted videos and other content on food production have received millions of views for this type of content; we expect this to translate to sales, but much is still to be determined.
According to the “United States Organic Food Market Forecast & Opportunities,” the organic category is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14% from 2013 to 2018.
Are there any especially notable or surprising findings in this year’s study—good, bad, or other?
The most notable thing we’d like food marketers to take away from our study is that the majority of consumers (66%) would like to see the food industry take more action in educating people on how food is produced. Jump in, be part of the conversation, share information.
We’re already seeing some shifts in the right direction–consumers are starting to trust food companies more as sources of information (17% in 2012 vs. 31% in 2014). There’s still a lot of work to be done in building consumers’ trust, but the good news is that they’re open and willing to listen.