I recently went along to hear David Jago, Mintel's food expert, talk about How the Food Industry is striving to win consumer trust; my sum up below:
As we muddle through this era of post-truth - as acknowledged by Oxford Dictionary - consumers are still trying to learn what ingredients mean and what they actually do; the good, the bad, even the ambiguous.
Is sugar the enemy? Or is old-fashioned real sugar and real fat much better than substitutes? Should I now be more worried about sodium intake? And don't get me started on industrialised wheat. Conflicting advice and information compounds the confusion and leads to false understandings and increased suspicion.
In Ireland last year we reached a 10-year high in the reporting (17% increase from 2015 to 2016) and recalling (26% increase from 2015 to 2016) of food products. Reporting has never been easier with more than half of those complaints shared online, but distribution channels are also more complex and vaster and perhaps increasingly subject to weakness. So, are producers cutting standards, are processes becoming more transparent or are consumers more vigilant and less tolerant of errors?
This culture of caution is changing shopping habits as two thirds of Irish consumers now trust the quality of goods in a food specialist/artisan store more than the goods in supermarkets. To combat the growth in artisan stores and the artisanal offerings of discounters, established retailers are either running price promotions (food prices in Ireland declined by 2.7% April 2016-17), or enriching their relationships to consumer as Spar has done with the launch of its Better Choices programme in an effort to align their brand with the convenient quality and straight forward shopping experience that people are looking for.
We are seeking truth and trust; this is 5 ways brands are responding.
1. Truthful packaging
Win trust with packaging. Tell your story of origin and clean ingredients.
Provenance is driving big campaigns from retailers like Aldi and Lidl and fast food chains like McDonalds, but point of origin and even individual producer is front and centre on the packaging of the multitude of homemade-style food and beverage products from every nook and corner of Ireland.
Consumers are putting greater trust in artisan suppliers that tell a clear and truthful story. In the US, the smallest manufacturers (about 16,000 companies) now account for 19% of food and beverage product sales and are driving more than half of the growth in the sector (53%).
Bord Bia found that although a majority of consumers will say they are motivated by price (60%), still 77% of them say the quality of fresh food is more important. And buying local food is important too (68%).
We are also examining what goes into those products; 23% consider it important for food bought via food specialists to be made using authentic ingredients; artisan needs to mean simple and authentic.
2. Real people
We don't want to hear from experts, we don't really trust them.
People want to see real people (Lidl's Trolleycam campaign has been mentioned more times by extended family and friends than any in recent memory; and also the beautiful documentary-style Dulux Weather Shield 'The Invincibles' featuring lifelong devoted sea swimmers).
We also want sincere and appropriate brand representatives, so be careful about what influence(r) you want to have; 23% of Irish consumers note that advertising featuring celebrities they don't like negatively impacts how they feel about that brand.
3. Real Plants
We want to see more of them, we want to eat more of them.
Plant-based food and drink substitutes value sales increased by 27% between 2015 and 2016, the market was estimated to be worth €20 million in 2016. Hiro by Roisin is just one range that speak to this trend. We're seeing greater visibility of plants or authentic ingredients on packaging and a rise in plant-based nutrition.
4. True Imperfection
Champion and cherish real food, be honest.
We like it when food brands own up and take action when issues arise, we are all human after all.
It's also a time to be more conscientious and understand that natural food is not always perfect, vegetables are sometimes wonky. FoodCloud is benefitting from this cultural trend towards a sensible approach to food and food waste. The cloud platform and mobile app connects food businesses that have surplus food with charities. In December 2016, the equivalent of 44,970 meals were redistributed by FoodCloud's Opel fleet of vans. Incredible.
On a global level with dwindling resources, many food and drink brands have a powerful story about the consideration they give to the sustainability of their supply chains. These stories must not sit on a corporate website but need to be told in an interesting way and distributed to people who will care.
5. Social: Gateway to Truth
Consumers don't visit brand websites; they get brand stories and information on social media or via other media channels, word of mouth or other sources.
42% of Irish adults agreed that raising issues with a company via social media is more effective than contacting them directly (i.e. by phone), and 3 in 10 noted they are more likely to visit a company's social media page for information than its website.
We see this with many of our FMCG clients in McCannBlue, where social acts as a gateway for consumers to seek clarity or information, complain sometimes, share product feedback, and most often to engage positively with content and language that connects with them and their interest in the brand, campaign or product.
Luckily, at McCannBlue truth is at the heart of everything we do (phew!), always has been. If you would like to learn more about how to find and relate the most powerful truth about your brand, you can trust us.
Shannon Rushe is Account Director at McCannBlue.
(Credit to Mintel for the bulk of statistics in this piece. Other sources of research are stated within body copy.)