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TAG April 24, 2019 0 Comments

We all know how fickle consumers can be, and with little to no science or apparent logic, they will decide that they don’t like a brand. So, if you are in any type of B2C business, part of your risk management strategy is to follow what consumers are saying and doing. Consumers see food safety as the #1 most important attribute which food companies should ensure, but they don’t have quite as much trust in food companies doing so – ranking it only as #3. Even more disheartening is the fact that only 52% of consumers said they trust the food industry to do the right thing, while 24% actively distrust it to do so. These and other consumer perceptions recently published in “Trust in Food” (FoodThink from Signal Theory, 2018) should give the industry pause. Not only in whether you are doing the right thing, but whether you are doing what is needed to build and ensure consumer trust in your food – and in the industry as a whole. It is both a brand loyalty and a broad industry challenge. To relay this, let’s take a more in-depth look at these and a few other statistics compiled from the survey of 2,123 consumers across the country who have joint or primary responsibility for the grocery and food decisions in their household: Ensuring food safety is #1 – but trust in that is only #3. Following food safety in importance were: Good nourishment – ranked #4 in trust Tastes good – #1 in trust Fair pricing – #7 in trust Prioritize customer health/well-being over bottom line/profit – #15 in trust With only 15 attributes from which to choose, I see it as very concerning that consumers feel the food companies focus a great deal more on the dollars than on the well-being of their customers. Whether or not this is fact, that perception will have a great deal to do with a lack of trust – and I’d see that pretty evident in the next statistic uncovered by the survey: While 52% trust the food industry to do the right thing – 24% actively distrust it. It was just this lack of trust in the industry that drove FoodThink to conduct the survey – to determine what is driving it. On the plus side, the perception of transparency of food companies has increased over the last six years – from 19% in 2012 to 41% in 2018. With FoodThink seeing transparency as “a non-negotiable element of building or restoring trust” into a brand’s actions and intention, this increase is a very positive direction. But, it’s not yet anything to hang your hat on, as it still shows that more than half of consumers don’t see the food system as transparent. Purpose, Authenticity, Competency and Transparency (PACT) are the most closely tied factors to building trust building trust in food among consumers. Thus, as FoodThink states, trust starts with the building of a “PACT” with consumers. This focus on “PACT” aligns with other industry statistics and news we’ve seen, and with food safety being so essential to consumer trust, it also aligns with TAG’s key focus on driving food safety best practices to mitigate risk and protect your brand. So how do you build PACT in your business? As presented in the white paper, Brands with a clearly articulated purpose are often more trusted by consumers. I see such a purpose as being any of the attributes listed by the consumers as important (e.g., food safety, good taste, nourishment, etc.); a more expansive purpose, such as sustainability or humane treatment of animals; or any combination. Today’s consumers want more than just the product from the businesses from whom they purchase; they want social responsibility and, yes, trust. Once a brand identifies its purpose and aligns employees, shareholders and customers, it must authentically live that purpose. This not only establishes integrity, it provides the further connection with consumers on an emotional, human level. Competency is established through consumer awareness of the company and its products and receipt of consistent quality, service and safety that they expect. Failure to do so pretty much negates all basic trust, leaving nothing on which to build emotional trust. Once purpose, authenticity and competency are established, transparency “becomes the most powerful tool in moving a brand from functional trust toward emotional trust.” Honestly and opening addressing the questions today’s consumer have about the source of their food and its ingredients shows that a brand has nothing to hide – and that it truly has its customers’ best interests at heart. FoodThink did a great job providing a succinct overview of the essentials of consumer trust. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as four brief bullets might imply, but the thorough application of these concepts as the foundation will not only help you build brand loyalty, it will help to protect your brand should something occur. As we all know, one tainted product, public recall or action by regulators can quickly impact a company’s brand and bottom line. But it does not have to be that way, and often a brand can survive a crisis well if consumers trust it before the crisis. Building trust while effectively managing food safety and quality, complying with all regulations and standards, and meeting your customers’ expectations are all critical to a company’s success. This is a complex juggling act that has to be dynamic and swift and yet cost conscious. Navigating these challenges in today’s environment is something that TAG can help you do, because we understand the risks and can help you look at your systems to identify the biggest risks and the most cost-effective solutions. About The Acheson Group (TAG) Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG’s team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance.


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