With wheat harvest quickly approaching, eyes all over the world are watching the Kansas crop. This includes consumers, who consistently report that they want to hear from the farmers who produce the foods they eat.
"There's nothing quite as personal as the food we consume and feed our families," the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) stated in its most recent research report, which detailed how farmers and food companies can meet consumer desires for more information on how their food is produced and processed.
Since 2007, the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) has conducted research on consumer trust as related to the U.S. food system. Their 2015 research report, titled "A Clear View of Transparency and How It Builds Consumer Trust," builds on three years of research into how consumers perceive food system transparency and what farmers and industry groups can do to more effectively communicate with consumers in a meaningful way.
ISO: More Transparency and Engagement
CFI explored transparency as related to six different subjects: food safety, impact of food on health, environmental impact, labor and human rights, animal well-being and business ethics. According to CFI's research, consumers rated food safety and impact of food on health as top priorities for information. As stated in the report, that data includes ingredients, allergens and preservatives and if ingredients were derived from GMO seed.
In all categories, consumers wanted the ability to engage with food companies - not only by having information provided in easy-to-access ways like a company website, but also by having the ability to dialogue on issues with companies.
Just behind food companies, consumers ranked farmers as second in all six categories when asked who has the responsibility to demonstrate transparency. In particular, farmers and food companies were virtually tied in responsibility for disclosure of environmental impact.
Continuing a Positive Trend
Over the last eight years of study, CFI stated a larger percentage of consumers reported having access to information about food production and safety. Still, less than 30 percent of consumers overall strongly agreed with the statement "I have access to all of the information I want about where my food comes from, how it is produced and its safety."
To take these results a step further, CFI analyzed how this desire for information and engagement can turn into social outrage in situations like a food illness outbreak. CFI determined two elements contribute to triggering social outrage: "a high level of concern about the issue and a strong belief that the issue will have a personal impact, or impact vulnerable populations like children and the elderly."
CFI also examined the most effective ways for farmers and food companies to manage these social outrage situations. The report stated transparency plays a key role and broke down the concept into seven elements: motivation, disclosure, stakeholder participation, relevance, clarity, credibility and accuracy. CFI pointed out that motivation, or acting "in a manner that is ethical and consistent with stakeholder interests" is particularly important for consumers who perceive big companies - like commercial farms or large food companies - as "motivated more by profit than public interest."
Whether a food company is responding to a recall or illness outbreak or a farmer is simply trying to answer questions about the environmental impact of his operation, the report results boil down to one basic concept: "It's simple: If you increase transparency, you will increase trust."
For more information, read the full CFI 2015 report at http://kswheat.com/sites/default/files/cfi-2015-consumer-trust-research-booklet.pdf.