Perceived food, ag transparency improves

Perceived transparency of the agricultural community and food companies is on the rise and making a difference with consumers.

IN the past few years, there have been a number of high-profile cases in the news related to food safety. These have led to greater scrutiny of food production practices overall on the part of consumers.

As a result, many food companies have stepped up to more actively respond to the concern and become a part of the conversation. Increasingly, they are sharing details about the practices they follow within their own operations as well as the practices commonly used throughout the food and agriculture sector.

According to the latest FoodThink study from Sullivan Higdon & Sink (SHS), these efforts to be more forthright are paying off. Perceived transparency of the agricultural community and food companies is on the rise. From 2012 to 2016, SHS has found a 15 percentage point rise for each (Figures).

Today, nearly two-thirds (65%) of consumers surveyed indicated that they believe it's somewhat or very important to have knowledge of food production processes and practices.

In its latest white paper, titled, "Evolving Trust in the Food Industry," SHS's FoodThink provided a comparative analysis of consumers' changed food production perceptions over the last four years.

Even with a rise in perceived food production transparency, FoodThink pointed out that food marketers must understand that there is still much to do. For instance, it is essential that marketing initiatives be tailored toward continued openness with consumers.

The study, results of which were published at the end of March, found that Millennials and parents were more likely to perceive food companies and agriculture as transparent. On the other hand, Baby Boomers and self-described "bad cooks" were much less likely to agree that agriculture and food companies are transparent; similarly, non-parents were also much less likely to agree with that view.

In some consumer segments, there simply exists an underlying desire for more knowledge. The study found that organic product shoppers, parents and those who described themselves as "good cooks" were most likely to think it's important to understand how food is produced. On the other hand, men and "bad cooks" were less likely to be concerned about understanding how their food is produced.

Consumers in the study implied that they want more than just healthier and fresher food options. Rather, they indicated that they want to know how their food was produced, where it came from and what ingredients were used.

Likewise, the study identified an increase in consumers looking for claims on foods like "no hormones," "no antibiotics" and "no trans fats."

While friends and family remain the most trusted sources of food production information, food companies and manufacturers, bloggers and social media and grocers and food retailers were found to be increasingly regarded as sources of credible information about the food industry.

That being so, SHS noted the importance that marketers consider every option when determining where to share their information.

Those sources the study identified as being less trustworthy compared to two years ago were: government agencies (the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food & Drug Administration), the medical community and the academic community.

Young consumers, dads and organic shoppers were found to be much more likely to trust sources like the government, animal pharmaceutical companies, blogs and social media. Older consumers and bad cooks, meanwhile, were found to be much less likely to trust these same sources.

As for takeaways for food and agricultural companies, SHS's FoodThink said the focus should be on:

* Building and championing educational initiatives around food production processes and practices;

* Building relationships with consumers and/or the sources they rely on by becoming a well of information on related topics and beyond;

* Leveraging the power of content through blogs and social media as a tool to provide food production knowledge and information to consumers, and

* Focusing on organic shoppers, good cooks and moms — the segments concerned most with gaining additional food production knowledge.

SHS is a full-service advertising and marketing agency with a focus on food value chain marketing, promoting products all along the farm-to-table spectrum.

FoodThink white papers are built on proprietary research conducted in 2016 and utilize the responses from more than 2,000 U.S. consumers.

The latest SHS FoodThink research paper compares changes in consumers' food production perceptions since SHS FoodThink's white papers "Building Trust in What We Eat" in 2012 and "Emerging Faith in Food Production" in 2014.

For more information on SHS's FoodThink, visit www.shsfoodthink.com.

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