KANSAS CITY — A lack of trust among consumers remains a significant issue for food and beverage manufacturers. The issue is more distressing given how much many companies have invested during the past five years in changing product formulations to feature ingredients consumers understand and improving supply chains to be transparent and meet perceived consumer expectations.
The continued lack of consumer trust came to light most recently in an International Food Information Council Foundation annual Food and Health Survey. When asked, “How much would you trust information from the following on which foods to eat and avoid?”, respondents ranked food companies last. Sources of information such as registered dietitians, health care professionals, scientific studies and government agencies ranked the highest.
Food manufacturers fared only slightly better when those surveyed were asked where they go for information about food and nutrition. Manufacturers ranked second to last, only ahead of “chefs or culinary professionals.”
It is true that the IFIC responses may reflect the inherent conflict of interest food companies have in offering information, but research conducted by the Center for Food Integrity and released earlier this year suggests the lack of trust consumers have in food manufacturers runs deeper. The C.F.I.’s research shows a “dangerous trust deficit that breeds increased skepticism and highlights the need for increased engagement by the food system.”
When it comes to who consumers trust to provide safe food, the C.F.I. found regulatory agencies rank eighth and food companies rank last on a list of 11 choices. Farmers fared better, ranking third. Sixty-four per cent of respondents to the survey said they hold a positive impression of agriculture while 44 per cent hold a positive impression of food manufacturing.
What may be less clear is exactly what food and beverage manufacturers need to do to regain the consumers’ trust? Manufacturers and their representative trade associations are employing a variety of tactics to engage and educate customers.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association in conjunction with the Food Marketing Institute have created SmartLabel, a digital tool to provide specific information about products sold at retail.
Among individual companies, efforts include product-specific initiatives to the realignment of entire businesses. Paris-based Danone, for example, is in the process of achieving B Corp certification, which focuses on creating a business that balances financial success with social and environmental responsibility. In an interview with Food Business News this past April, Emmanuel Faber, chairman and chief executive officer of Danone, said there is a “food revolution” going on around the world.
“Large brands are losing ground to the little guys, the disruptors,” Mr. Faber said. “We see consumers turning the bottles on the shelves to see who makes the product. They do not trust brands owned by large public companies.”
Significant action will be necessary to reengineer this legacy in a way that brings major food makers much needed credibility in the minds of consumers.