Want consumers’ trust? Plan to show the good, the bad and the ugly
New research shows when it comes to earning consumer trust on production practices, producers of pork and other foods will find that demonstrating “shared values” — making sure animals are healthy and treated humanely, for example — is three to five times more important than showcasing skills and expertise, according to J.J. Jones, the Center for Food Integrity (CFI).
“Consumers trust farmers because they believe farmers share their values,” Jones said at the 2017 American Association of Swine Veterinarians meeting1. “Unfortunately, consumers aren’t sure today’s agriculture still qualifies as farming.”
Agriculture’s tendency to use science to justify its practices increases the consumer’s suspicion and skepticism. “The industry confuses scientific verification with ethical justification,” Jones observed.
The importance of consumer or stakeholder trust directly influences the success of agricultural businesses through what Jones calls “social license.”
“Social license is the privilege of operating with minimal formalized restrictions including legislation, litigation, regulation or market mandates,” Jones explained. “By doing what’s right, you maintain public trust and avoid restrictions on your business, resulting in more flexibility and lower costs.”
A single event, or series of events, that reduces or eliminates consumer trust replaces social license with social control, Jones says, adding that “operating a business with social control means higher costs and reduced operational flexibility due to increased bureaucratic compliance.”
By actively changing the way it engages consumers, pork and other food industries have the opportunity to improve their level of trust through transparency and “value-based communication.”
Jones listed seven attributes needed for transparency:
- Motivations — demonstrate that your actions are ethical and consistent
- Disclosure — publicly share all information, both positive and negative
- Stakeholder participation — engage those interested in your activities or impact
- Relevance — share information that stakeholders deem timely and important
- Clarity — share information that is easily understood and easily obtained
- Credibility — share positive and negative information that supports stakeholders’ decision making and a history of operating with integrity
- Accuracy — share information that is truthful, objective, reliable and complete
For example, consumers are looking for these attributes when they ask for labels listing all ingredients including allergens, preservatives and GMO status of ingredients, Jones said.
They also expect clear communication and the ability to engage the company through its website and social media platforms. The ability to ask questions and receive easy-to-understand answers on topics — including corrective actions on negative reports and access to third-party audits on animal care and welfare — are part of the transparency and trust equation.
CFI, in partnership with Iowa State University, uses qualitative research to understand the relationship between consumers, agriculture and communication.
1 Jones JJ. Consumers, pigs, vets, and zoonoses: The critical role you play in earning trust with consumers. In: Proceedings of the 48th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (February 25-28, 2017). Page 322-324.