GLADSTONE, MO. — Consumers will keep wanting to find out what’s in their food — and find out quickly, said Deb Arcoleo, director of product transparency for The Hershey Co. Giving them that information digitally might be the food industry’s future.
|Deb Arcoleo, director of product transparency for The Hershey Co.
“Whether or not any one particular area of interest is going to stay with us or fade away, I think the reality is, consumers want to know a lot,” she said in an Aug. 17 webinar put on by the Gladstone-based Center for Food Integrity. “That’s not going to change. What they want to know most about might fluctuate from year to year, but having a flexible way of getting them the information they want so that it’s accurate and up to date, I think that is what’s most important.”
Niki King, senior manager of the corporate social responsibility program office for the Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., also spoke in the webinar entitled “Transparency Revolution: What Food Companies Expect from Today’s Supply Chain to Earn Trust.”
Ms. Arcoleo said The Hershey Co., Hershey, Pa., will focus on the four ingredients of cocoa, almonds, fluid dairy milk and sugar since they make up 80% of the company’s product portfolio. The priority of sustainability issues vary by commodity, she said. For cocoa, it’s making certain farms do not use illegal child labor. For dairy, Hershey wants suppliers to provide all milk from cows not treated with rBST.
To communicate with consumers, Hershey’s web site features an ingredient glossary that includes a definition for every ingredient the company uses and an explanation of why the ingredient is used in a product.
“If there’s anything unrecognizable, somebody can see why it’s there (in the product),” Ms. Arcoleo said.
She also praised the SmartLabel technology initiative that involves Hershey, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Washington, and other food and beverage companies. Consumers may use a quick-response (Q.R.) code on a food package to learn more about the product in such areas as nutrition, ingredients and allergens. The SmartLabel is on more than 2,000 items now and might be up to 34,000 items by the end of 2017, Ms. Arcoleo said.
“Consumers really want to hear the full story,” she added. “Transparency is not about just telling a good story. In fact, that’s a little disingenuous. Consumers really appreciate it when you tell them, ‘Hey, here is what we’re doing that’s good, and oh, by the way, here’s what we’re doing that isn’t so good, or things that we’re still working on, and we’re not satisfied with our progress.’
“They really want to hear the whole story, and they will give brands and companies a lot of credibility for being really honest, open and transparent.”
Campbell Soup is hiring
As evidence of a commitment to sustainability, the Campbell Soup Co. is in the process of hiring a director of responsible sourcing and a director of sustainable agriculture, Ms. King said.
She said Campbell Soup is working on a definition for “real food.” The fundamentals of “real food” involve recognizable and desirable ingredients, ethical sourcing and sustainable practices, and food that is delicious, safe and available. The company has goals of 100% sustainable palm oil this year, 100% gestation crate-free pork by 2022, and 100% cage-free eggs by 2025.
The millennials and Generation Z are driving Campbell Soup’s efforts.
|Niki King, senior manager of the corporate social responsibility program office for the Campbell Soup Co.
“These generations are really more informed, and they are pushing us to more transparency,” she said.
They are looking for organic, fresh food and want to know what is in the packaging and how the ingredients are sourced, she said.
“And finally those preferences are fueled by advancing technology,” Ms. King said. “So today’s consumer really wants this information to be immediately accessible, and they want us to be transparent about it. Technology is transforming everything from the way the consumers shop to how they make the choices about the food that they eat.”
Both Campbell Soup and Hershey have taken action on bioengineered/G.M.O. ingredients. Campbell Soup lists on the packaging of an item whether or not it contains bioengineered ingredients. The Hershey Co. has switched to sourcing non-G.M.O. sugar cane and non-G.M.O. sugar beet.
The Center for Food Integrity, a not-for-profit organization, has done surveys that involved G.M.O. questions, said Charlie Arnot, chief executive officer. In unaided questions, where consumers are not given a list of items to choose, G.M.O. rarely comes up, he said.
“But when it does come up, it tends to be an icon for what consumers perceive of as an industrialized food system,” he said. “So it’s almost become shorthand for what they don’t like about big food.”
Who is accountable?
Another Center for Food Integrity project examined who consumers hold responsible for six issues: impact of food on health; food safety; impact on the environment; labor and human rights; animal well-being; and business ethics.
Food companies, farmers, grocery stores and restaurants all could be held accountable to a certain degree. For each issue, consumers had 100 points to allocate in total. For example, in impact on food health, food companies received 41 points and were followed by farmers at 28, grocery stores at 16 and restaurants at 15. Food companies received the most points for each of the six issues, even coming up with 49 points for animal well-being compared to 30 points for farmers.“In most cases, consumers really held food companies primarily responsible for transparency,” Mr. Arnot said.