Clear communication only way to end cycle of food gossip (commentary)

Clear communication only way to end cycle of food gossip (commentary)

MOST people who write on a regular basis typically have lots of observations about their writing experiences, and most likely, those are highly varied. However, I imagine there are probably several general themes you'll find among those observations.

One of the distinct commonalities is that many writers won't remember much of what they've written over the years (at least not in any detail).

See, for many writers, as soon as they're done with one submission, they're off to the next deadline. However, within that, they'd probably also share with you several particular things they've written that they remember well. That's because it churns around and around in their minds over time.

Well, that's how it goes for me, at least. One of those things that has stuck with me is a column from January 2013 because it's the column where I used the term "food gossip" as part of a broader description concerning consumers and information (Feedstuffs, Jan. 7, 2013). That discussion went like this:

In public, things don't always play out in a logical or objective manner. That can prove frustrating given that we live in the information age, where data and facts should mean something, but that's not always the case.

Rather, what has changed is the rate and scope of information transfer, but that doesn't necessarily improve the quality of information transfer. In other words, it provides a platform for bad information to move around just as easily as good information. That leaves the door open for baseless misinformation to gain traction.

Consumers get bombarded by what essentially amounts to nothing more than food gossip. It all gets perpetuated, accelerated and amplified by their friends and/or the media.

In preparation for an upcoming presentation, I found myself reviewing some new survey data and was reminded of that phrase I used last year.

In March, FoodThink (Sullivan, Higdon & Sink) published an updated version of its survey titled "Emerging Faith in Food Production: A Follow-Up on Consumer Confidence in the Food Industry." There are a number of excellent nuggets within the report.

However, one item in particular caught my attention and harkened me back to the issue of food gossip, i.e., results from the section on "Trusted Sources of Information." The primary question is: "Who's more trustworthy than friends and family?"

To fully appreciate what's contained in that section, though, let's first back up. In the previous "Improving Consumer Perception" section, it's reported that 76% of consumers DO NOT have excellent or good knowledge of food production. That's up from 60% just two years ago, when the survey was completed in 2012.

As such, it's evident that consumers are becoming more self-aware regarding the complexities of food production and understand that their knowledge is generally lacking. Clearly, that's a huge opportunity for the industry.

With that in mind, let's talk about the "Trusted Sources of Information" section, because that's where the disconnect kicks in.

Although their industry knowledge is lacking, 57% of respondents believe friends and family are trustworthy sources of information regarding food production. Worse yet, friends and family scored higher than ranchers and farmers as trusted sources of information (only 53% of respondents indicated that food producers were viable providers of knowledge).

The report notes, "Americans still overwhelmingly trust information about food production that they receive via word-of-mouth, especially from friends and family."

In other words, most consumers don't trust themselves when it comes to meaningful information about food production, but for whatever reason, they do trust people close to them.

That leads to the obvious question as to why that occurs. Perhaps, because the knowledge gap is so wide, the thing that matters most is to simply speak with authority. That is, those friends or family members who talk like they "know" (whether they really do or not) become the authorities for their circle of influence.

Whatever the reason, the results certainly are a wakeup call for those of us in the food industry. We need to do a better job of creating relationships with consumers and subsequently communicating more clearly.

That's a big job, but the payoff is huge. It's the only way we'll ever really stop the seemingly endless cycle of food gossip.

*Dr. Nevil Speer serves as a private industry consultant. He is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and can be reached at [email protected]

Volume:86 Issue:24

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