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Consumer Trust Has Changed. Are You in Sync?

In the past, consumers relied on sensory aspects of food, such as color and smell, as well as brand-related cues, to frame purchasing decisions and assess the quality of a product. But, as highlighted in the recent CSIRO review and through many research articles the past few years, consumer trust factors that influence buying decisions now go well beyond basic quality criteria. This makes it critical for the food industry to not only assess their marketing tactics but also their supply-chain, production, and operational practices – all of which are now further scrutinized by consumers.

Producer marketing had previously been able to communicate trusted attributes, but consumer confidence in the integrity of the food system has declined due to a number of factors, including an increasing history of serious food safety incidents, food fraud, and changed production practices. Additionally, income growth and awareness of the health, social, and environmental consequences of food choices “has increased global demand for diverse, safe, and premium foods with specific attributes,” with today’s consumer seeking aspects such as safety, nutrition, environmental protection, and animal welfare.

Thus, to assess the desired attributes of their foods to educate purchasing decisions, consumers now look to:

  • Food packaging labels that provide trusted attribute claims, certifications, country or region of origin, and food traceability information.
  • Producers, processors, and retailers who provide food safety and quality assurances.
  • Government agencies, third-party institutions, advocacy groups, and the mass media which can impact consumer perception of labeling information and food operators.

Adding to this, an October USDA report shows that the value of retail sales was higher in August 2021 than August 2020 in every category except sugar and sweeteners, vegetables, and alcohol; and higher, by 17.2%, than August 2019. Additionally, according to the Conference Board, the Consumer Confidence Index increased in October, following declines in the previous three months. “While short-term inflation concerns rose to a 13-year high, the impact on confidence was muted. The proportion of consumers planning to purchase homes, automobiles, and major appliances all increased in October—a sign that consumer spending will continue to support economic growth through the final months of 2021.”

What does all this mean for the food industry?

With general consumer confidence and expected spending having increased, but consumer trust in food and assessment of food production being significantly altered, there are opportunities for the industry to meet consumer demand. Key opportunities lie within the three areas to which consumers are looking for assurance:

  • Do you know what attributes consumers are seeking in your foods – and including and labeling these? Do you have certifications that consumers know and trust? Are you being thorough in your supply-chain validation program? Transparent in your sourcing? Seeking to work with and verify ethical and food-safe suppliers or producers?
  • With consumers looking to producers, processors, and retailers for assurance, have you reassessed your production practices to ensure they are deserving of the trust consumers place in them? Have your production practices changed to meet consumer needs and for the betterment of society as a whole? Or are you continuing to do things in the way you always have without seeking to improve?
  • Mitigating reputational risk. With so many outside influencers (e.g., advocacy groups, social media, news media, etc.) able to impact both positive and negative consumer perception of labeling information, the food industry, and your brand itself, are you communicating what you are doing right to build trust in your product?

Whether or not a consumer’s perception is reality, it is their reality which ultimately impacts their beliefs, trust, and decision-making. With both individual perception and global realities changing over time, the industry must stay attuned to both and ensure processes, practices, and communication are in sync with the world of today.

For assistance in retaining or building consumer trust in your brand by mitigating operational, regulatory, and reputational risk – while ensuring your food safety and public health practices are the best they can be – give TAG a call! We can help.


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