A study conducted by the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) found that only 33 percent of consumers fully trust the claims made by food manufacturers, which is a significant drop from the 47 percent in 2017. What researchers refer to as a “trust deficit” may be a challenge for new companies and products entering the food space.
According to the study, less than half (44 percent) of those who were surveyed had a positive impression of food manufacturing. In 2017, 42 percent of consumers believed that US farmers cared about the environment, a number that dropped to 30 percent in this recent survey. In addition, only 25 percent of these respondents believe that American meat is sourced from ethically treated animals.
CFI’s research involved making a list of 11 sources of information that consumers should trust. These sources included the FDA, food companies, farmers, state regulatory agencies, families, grocery stores, family doctor, restaurants, nutrition advocacy groups, university scientists and dietitians. The respondents were then asked to order these eleven sources from most trustworthy to least trustworthy.
The results from the study found that consumers placed food companies dead last at number 11 on their lists. This is a surprising ranking for the industry as many manufacturers are investing in new products with health claims. However, families, family doctor and farmers were raked as the top three respectively. Such results are indicative of consumers believing in relatable sources. As famers are an integral part in the food production process, the industry could benefit from bolstering marketing efforts in that area.
“I am often asked why consumers have a certain, often inaccurate, impression of the food system,” Roxi Beck, director at CFI, said in a release. “My response is simple: because farmers and food companies haven’t engaged consumers in a way that addresses their underlying concerns. The food system is making great strides toward transparency and responsiveness, which is tremendous, but there is more work to be done.”
Beck continues by giving advice to food manufacturers on building trust with their consumers. She suggests that companies take the transparent route and provide tours at their farms for consumers to see part of their production process.
“The ‘ah-ha’ moments are often dramatic when consumers see and hear for themselves how food is produced,” she said in a statement. “This is because they’ve made a personal connection with the individual expert, which allows the conversation to move forward.”
CFI also agrees that companies need to promote their natural roots in order to become transparent to their consumers. The market research organization said that companies who bolster their large size and international reach could be doing the opposite of what their intentions are. These corporate assets are perceived as negative qualities to those consumers who do not trust large corporations.
“Enhance communication regarding animal well-being on the farm,” the report advises. “Posting videos and/or pictures online, along with stories from the farm, increases transparency and helps build trust.”
As consumers become more educated on the food space, they also become wary of claims made by large corporations. If companies focus on natural and family roots, they may be able to boost consumer trust and in turn, sales.