3 strategies to help manufacturers close the ‘dangerous’ consumer trust-accountability gap

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers place significant onus for ensuring the safety of food and beverages on the companies that make them, and yet their trust in manufacturers to deliver this is at rock bottom – creating a dangerous gap that can be closed only with increased transparency, according to The Center for Food Integrity.

Recent research conducted by CFI found consumers rank food companies dead last among 12 entities when asked who they trust to ensure the safety of America’s food supply. At the same time, the only entity they hold more accountable for ensuring food safety than manufacturers is the federal government, Terri Moore, director of The Center for Food Integrity, told FoodNavigator-USA at the Grocery Manufacturer Association’s Science Forum in Washington, DC, in late March.

She explained this gap could lead to advocacy for more oversight and regulations, higher levels of consumer distrust of products, and shoppers seeking information from other – perhaps unreliable – sources.

According to Moore, consumer fear that food companies will place their interests ahead of the public’s is based partly on repeated violations of public trust that have occurred repeatedly in the past few decades.

“The way we overcome that is both by demonstrating that our values align with their values, and also through transparency,”​ she said. This includes changing the way businesses measure and discuss their success.

“One of the things that we have tended to do in the food system is be very proud of growth – that is achieving the American dream, traditionally. But to today’s consumer, that growth also means you might be more interested in profit,”​ than their needs, Moore said.

Therefore, she argued, “the bigger you get, the more important it is to have very clear value statements, to make sure that your communications that you are putting out to the public demonstrate your values.”

She also suggests that companies maximize the halo that farmers have as consumers view them as equally responsible and trustworthy when it comes to ensuring food safety.

Finally, Moore suggested companies create active and engaging consumer outreach programs to winnow the difference between consumer trust and accountability.

“If we want to engage consumers and we want to build trust with consumers, we have to build trust with the groups that they are currently aligned with,”​ including the consumer advocacy groups that some companies might currently consider the opposition, Moore said.

“There is one Fortune 500 company in the food system that describes how it used to be absolutely opposed to consulting with consumer advocacy groups. They viewed them as groups that couldn’t be helpful and were kind of the enemy. And they completely flipped that philosophy around and actually formed advisory groups that include representatives from those groups, and they said the changed their world in terms of the amount of negative feedback … and in terms of the level of support”​ they received from consumers, Moore said. “There is a huge opportunity for the food system there.”

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