Five reasons for the trust breakdown in food
Written by Floortje IJssel de Schepper on Sunday 20 May 2018
food industry consumer price
It’s no secret that over the past few years, the overall trust in our food industry has been significantly harmed.
People no longer blindly buy what’s being sold. Is healthy really healthy? Is that product made by who they say it’s made by? There is a need for transparency. How did we get this far? Five factors to blame for losing our trust.
It’s difficult to know what to believe anymore, especially when it comes to nutrition. Every involved party seems to be claiming different things. In 2016 BBC good food made the claim that moderate consumption of wine is good for you. Less than a year later the Dutch consumer protection program Radar featured experts claiming even moderate consumption of any alcohol would lead to long term damage to our bodies. In a similar vein, the long tradition of milk being hailed as herald of good health is coming to end. Lactose intolerance is seemingly on the rise, and is negatively impacting the perception of milk and dairy products. Conflicting messages make it so the consumer simple doesn’t know what’s best for them anymore.
2. Food scandal
Food scandals are an obvious cause of consumer mistrust. The UK horsemeat scandal, in which so-called pure beef products turned out to contain horsemeat is a prime example. Or the scandal surrounding sustainable palm oil, in which Amnesty International exposed egregious conditions making the oil anything but sustainable. The internet and our era of fake news means that a scandal doesn’t even necessarily have to be true to negatively impact consumer trust.
In most developed countries, products that are good for your health are significantly more expensive than products that aren’t. Many healthy products are fresh, and have a longer shelf life than unhealthy mass produced foodstuffs. Furthermore, much of that mass production happens in foreign countries with a lower cost of labor. The problem arises when the true cost of food is exposed. The healthy, fresh products are more expensive in the short term, whereas the true cost of the industrial production (the environment, healthcare) is hidden from consumers. They want to do good, but aren’t sufficiently incentivized. This leads to a loss of trust.
The greatest show on earth is constantly pulling the wool over our eyes, at least that’s a popular perception of the advertising world. Cornbread without corn, Whole grain bread containing 6% actual whole grains. These are just a few examples of everyday misdirections that erode the baseline of good faith. Ask yourself what your default setting is towards advertisements these days? Do you trust what commercials tell you?
The problem isn’t businesses that operate in multiple countries per se, but rather the faceless corporate monoliths perceived to only care about their bottom line. A company like Monsanto is often vilified for their Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) practices, for example. These practices aren’t proven to necessarily be harmful, but the perception alone is often enough to cause upheaval. There is an often unrealistic burden of proof put upon these companies that is impossible to meet, leading to an automatic default on the public’s trust.
Considering these factors, it’s not terribly surprising that trust in the food system is at an all time low. It’s a little naive, however, to believe that the prices we pay for our food are enough to support a sustainable and fair system. Consumers have to shoulder some of the burden of a sustainable food system, and companies likewise need to practice transparency and breathe honesty. Food and trust should be a couple, and only by working together can we make them be again.