Food & Beverage Trends: Transparency Is the New “Safe”

Michelle Edelman

Michelle Edelman

Chief Strategy Officer

Consumers are rapidly changing their relationship with food. From grade schoolers making healthier choices in the cafeteria to the demand for locally sourced fresh products, we all seem to be yearning for the good food. Good food isn’t just delicious and nutritious. And while food safety remains a big concern, food & beverage trend data is showing that transparency just may be the new “safe.”

An IconoCommunities 2014 food safety survey revealed half of consumers were “very concerned” about food safety. At that time, food attitudes were shaped by global health concerns and pop culture influences. For most consumers, safe food was defined as being free of toxins and pathogens. When foodborne illnesses are elevated to a multistate or regional level, however, consumers heighten their concerns. As foodborne illness outbreaks dotted the news, a rash of films – starting with Super Size Me(2004) kicking off a flurry of food-industry exposés culminating in the Academy Award-nominated Food, Inc. (2008) – delved beyond the grocery shelves and into the processes and practices of what could lead to food-created illness.

As a result, the definition of “good food” changed. No longer does it just mean “won’t make me sick today.” A study of 5,000 consumers by Deloitte in 2015 found that consumer demands for “good food” are expanding in scope.

The New Definition of Food Safety
Source: Deloitte consumer food value equation study, 2015.

Won’t Make Me Sick Now – OR Later

When presented with the definition of “safe” food & beverage as one that will not cause any immediate, physical harm, 52% of consumers said that at least something was missing from this definition. Consumers’ traditional short-term food safety concerns about germs are now augmented with consideration for long-term health and wellness benefits, such as whether a food is free of carcinogens.

The Desire For End-to-End Transparency

The new consumer definition for safety also includes assurance that food manufacturers are honest about how and where they source food; their processing systems, implementations and safeguards; and the accuracy of their labels and nutritional information. Good food means understanding what it takes to get that food product on the shelves.

Good Food Is Clean Food

Consumers are now associating “safety” with simplicity – fewer ingredients and less artificial additives are significant findings from the Deloitte report. Additionally, we know that consumers favor brands that offer health-specialized alternatives like gluten free, no salt, non-GMO, antibiotic-free and a long list of permutations. These kinds of variants – even if they are not available across the entire product line of a company’s offerings – signal to the consumer that the company is conscious about the health needs of the population and is making efforts to innovate its whole line around health concerns.

Good Food Comes From Good Companies

Beyond the rational arguments of product substance and best practices, a manufacturer’s values are becoming a signal to consumers that the food they make is truly good. In short, good food is made by good people.

Consumer Food Value Equation Chart
Source: Deloitte consumer food value equation study, 2015.

Retailers Are Responsible Too

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) changes the way food is regulated and affects the entire supply chain from farm to fork. Many of the regulations announced in 2013 became permanent in 2015 and 2016 and, while focused mainly on the manufacturer, there are strong implications for retailers. Consumers are dimly aware of these changes, but when surveyed, they indicate that the retailer’s precautions and practices when transporting, storing and handling are visible to them, and they now judge retailers on these standards.

What’s A Brand To Do?

Your communications platform and actions are absolutely critical to conveying that your food or beverage brand is good for consumers.

  • Dissect your ingredients and practices, and determine which will meet the consumer “good food” standards – and get the word out!
  • Review those “good food” standards and compare them to your competition. If you are the only DSD company in your competitive set, for example, that hands-on accountability through the supply chain could make a meaningful difference to consumers.
  • Review your heritage and history of practices – what are some things you have never done or ingredients that are under fire that you have never used? Refresh these as a current claim.
  • Talk to your friendly neighborhood attorney and ask what they are seeing as hot buttons in the industry right now. The conversation may turn over some stones you haven’t thought of before.
  • Market improved packaging and clean labeling as consumer transparency efforts.
  • Don’t shy away from talking up your healthier options – even if they are only a few of your SKUs.
  • Communicate about the human values of your company and the principles by which you make your product.
  • Review your social media policies to make sure you are responding to consumer questions about ingredients and safety without using defensive or “canned” responses. Be real.

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