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Do you know what your consumers mean when they say ‘safe food’?


As CEO of the Center for Food Integrity (CFI), I spend my days helping companies learn just that. Through educational opportunities, research initiatives and other programmes, we help the food system understand and earn consumer trust.


GFSI and CFI have much in common. We both convene stakeholders that represent the diversity of the food system, from industry leaders to experts from universities and NGOs, and we share similar philosophies and desired outcomes: namely, safe, nutritious food for consumers everywhere.


GFSI-recognised certification is an important step towards assuring consumers that their food is safe, but you cannot stop there. Without honest and transparent engagement, you can have all the right technical measures in place to keep your consumers safe and stop short of gaining their trust.


At this year’s GFSI Conference, I’ll be leading a plenary session that turns the spotlight towards this issue. In ‘Trust in a Changing World: Consumer Perception in the Age of Social Media’, my fellow presenters and I will explore how companies can reach consumers through communication that they care about.


The 2-step path to reaching consumers: shared values and science

Not all consumers are as technically savvy as the food safety professionals that make up a large part of GFSI’s membership. Data alone isn’t enough to persuade these consumers that their food is safe. For example, we know statistically that today’s food system is safer than it has ever been before — but because today’s food safety incidents can have global impact, consumer perception may not be consistent with reality.


The first step to reach consumers should always be to engage based on values. Find where your values and those of your consumer audience overlap, and use your platform to start a conversation around that overlap. Embrace their healthy skepticism and establish that you understand and accept their concerns. Only then are you given permission to introduce some data.


The second step is to distill the data into a form that is clear, concise and compelling, whether through social media or other means of communication. Distillation doesn’t mean ‘dumbing down’ the information, but translating it into your consumers’ language and making it relevant and meaningful for them.


The payoff of transparency

There is significant return on the investment involved in opening the channels of communication with consumers. Today, we’re not just competing for a share of consumers’ wallets; we’re also competing for shares of hearts, minds and voices.


If you can connect with consumers’ hearts and minds based on their values, they might give you a share of their voices as they talk about the issues they care about, such as food safety, the food system’s impact on the environment and the relationship between diet and health. And the best way to make that connection is by increasing transparency.


True transparency means admitting that you’re not perfect. Consumers don’t expect perfection; they expect commitment to continuous improvement and honest engagement. By demonstrating this commitment, you buy credibility and goodwill, and that gives you the opportunity to assure consumers that what you’re doing is in line with their values.


I hope you’ll join me at the sixth plenary of the GFSI Conference to start investing in consumer trust. There’s much more to cover, from the spread of microcultures to combating fake news, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

This post was written and contributed by:

Charlie Arnot
The Center for Food Integrity

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