Transparency is key to winning the savvy shopper

By Nick Martin, SVP, Trace One.

Today's consumers are more mindful and savvy than ever, with dietary and allergy awareness playing a much larger part in people's lives. The recent example of nuts being found in place of spices in a number of food products prompted a continent-wide recall and added further damage to consumer trust following recent food scares like the horsemeat crisis. As a result, the public now demands more information about the ingredients within the food products they buy, and is urging for this to be clearly labelled across all food products. From ethically sourced through to gluten free products, consumers now demand a wide variety of information on the food they consume, and retailers needs to take notice or risk losing customers.

The demand for more information has certainly been accelerated by recent food scandals. While there are many reasons why a product's contents could differ from how it is described; from innocent mistakes to industrial sabotage, if consumers feel that the products they purchase actively misleads or fails to mention key ingredients then retailers' and manufacturers' reputations are at risk. Crises like these show that new approaches are needed to match consumers' expectations.

Above and beyond

The potential damage to the food industry's reputation and risk to public health presented by incorrect labelling means that information needs to be fully accessible with to consumers. Full transparency throughout the supply chain is needed for this; both to inspire customer trust and to help retailers and manufacturers locate and recall products when problems occur. While with the nuts for spices recall shows that the food industry is not yet up to scratch, it will soon to either improve its standards or risk alienating consumers.

Something set to help usher in this change is the EU's Food Information to Consumers Regulation (FIR) which came into effect in December last year. This has set out to change the way that food products will have to be labelled. It has set new requirements such as mandating a minimum size of fonts, highlighting potential allergens, and the compulsory origin labelling of unprocessed meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry. By the food industry doing more to provide these details to consumers, the hope is that they will become empowered to make more informed decisions about the products they buy.

Although this regulation poses logistical challenges, it also creates the opportunity for retailers and manufacturers to innovate across their products and distance themselves from the competition. Through this, the food industry can ensure that its reputation is not only restored, but even improved by going beyond what is required from them. For example: ensuring that all the relevant product information is clearly labelled; that any claims can be substantiated; and that all information is transparently shared and made readily available will go a long way to satisfying customers.

Learning the lessons

Neglecting the issue of incorrect labelling can have devastating results. Take the 2013 horsemeat crisis as an example, where some samples were revealed to be up to 100% horsemeat. As a result, retailers and manufacturers suffered a drastic loss of public confidence. The extent of this was such that British consumers bought nearly 8,000 tonnes less red meat in 2013, according to research from Kantar. The effects are still being felt today: a recent survey by Ipsos MORI showed that 31% of British adults have now changed the way they choose or buy food, and almost all adults in the UK (95%) remember the horsemeat incident.

Correct labelling needs to remain at the forefront of consideration, since the public memory is particularly astute when it comes to food crises. The horsemeat crisis was hard hitting for consumers and all parties involved in the supply chain alike, but it shows that the food industry has to be more transparent. While crises like these are inevitable, transparency can help alleviate concerns and begin the process of restoring consumer trust.

A transparent view of the future

Now more than ever, it's essential that all parties ensure the transparent sharing of information of food products and that they make this clear to consumers. Restoring consumer trust is a slow and careful process, but by creating full transparency, food producers can use this as a chance to prove themselves and show they are going above and beyond to help their customers The opportunity is there for those who take the opportunity to innovate and differentiate themselves from the competition.

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