Consumer trust in food companies is rising, but industry still has work to do, survey reveals

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock
Consumers slowly but increasingly are trusting food companies and perceiving them as transparent as more manufacturers explain how they source and make products, but a significant portion of shoppers remain wary – indicating industry still has work to do, according to new marketing research. 

Since 2012, the percent of consumers who trust food companies as transparent about how food is produced has climbed 15 percentage points from a mere 19% to 34% in 2016, according to a survey of more than 2,000 adults nationwide conducted by Sullivan Higdon & Sink.

The full service advertising and marketing agency attributes this “upswing”​ to industry-wide initiatives to educate the public, but it cautions the messaging is not effectively reaching all types of consumers. In particular, the survey found, only 28% of baby boomers and 26% of consumers who self-identified as “bad cooks”​ agree food companies are transparent about how food is produced.

The numbers improve significantly, however, for millennials and parents with 43% and 42% respectively saying food companies are transparent about production.

Still, the progress becomes “dim”​ when compared to the nearly two-thirds of consumers who say they want to know more about how food is produced, the agency says in a white paper published in March​ that details the survey results. 

Target most concerned consumers

To most effectively continue to build trust, the marketing agency encourages the food industry to close the gap between trust and desire for more information by focusing its education efforts on consumers who are most concerned about gaining additional food production knowledge.

“Organic shoppers, moms, dads and those who describe themselves as good cooks are more likely to think it is important to understand how food is produced,”​ according to the survey results.

Notably, these groups also are more likely to already have good or excellent knowledge about food production, the survey reveals. It found organic shoppers and good cooks independently from each other are 37% more likely than the average consumers to claim to have good or excellent knowledge about food production. Dads also over indexed 23% as did moms 6%, the survey found.

This “could be attributed to decision-making based around child or overall family needs,”​ the report suggests.

Trusted sources for information

How best to communicate with these groups is evolving as their level of trust in different sources of information is shifting, the marketing firm found.

For example, the survey revealed the percentage of consumers who find food manufacturers very or somewhat trustworthy climbed 17 percentage points to 34% from 17% in 2012. During the same period, trust in grocers and retailers climbed 4 percentage points and 15 percentage points for bloggers and social media.

The most trusted sources for food production information remains friends and family at 68%, farmers and ranchers at 60% and the medical community at 54%, the survey found.

Notably, trust in food production information from FDA fell 7 percentage points to only 50% as did trust in USDA, which dropped 7 percentage points to 52%.

Given the dramatic increase in trust of bloggers, many of whom consumers likely view as friends even if they do not personally know them, the marketing firm suggests food companies “leverage the power of content”​ on blogs by using them “as a tool to provide food production knowledge and information to consumers.”

It also recommends building relationships directly with shoppers by “becoming a well of information on related topics and beyond.”

One way to prioritizing messaging is to base it on what claims consumers say are extremely or very important.

The survey found the most important attributes or claims consumers consider when buying food includes fresh, which 69% of consumers noted, natural flavors (46%), high in vitamins and minerals (43%) and no hormones (42%) or antibiotics (42%).

The least frequently cited claims were gluten-free (20%), organic (25%), low calorie (27%), low fat (30%) and locally made or sourced (30%).

 

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