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The Parallels Between People Food and Pet Food Trust Challenges

Excerpts from an article in PetFoodIndustry.com.

CFI’s Roxi Beck provided fresh perspectives on earning trust at a recent meeting of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a voluntary organization comprised largely of regulatory officials who enforce their state’s laws and regulations concerning the safety of animal feeds.

While CFI works in the “people food” space, Beck spoke to the parallels with the pet food industry, which has ongoing challenges when it comes to earning trust. Increased interest in “clean” ingredients for pet health and wellness and the visibility of pet food recalls have pet owners keeping a keen eye on what pet food companies are selling and how it’s produced.

Food is personal for both people and for people entrusted to ensure their pets thrive, so transparency and engaging in ways that earn trust are key across the board.

As Beck detailed in her address, three factors leading to trust are being an “influential other,” or someone who has expertise in a particular area, demonstration of competence (e.g., knowledge, facts and skills) and, most importantly confidence via a similarity in values.

“Most pet food companies probably have the competence in place to sufficiently address concerns from consumers. However, it’s the showing of those shared values that are a much stronger driving factor in gaining trust than the actual facts,” according to David Dzanis, DVM, PhD, DACVN, contributor to PetFoodINdustry.com

So, what are the three steps to earning consumer trust? It’s not to persuade, correct and educate. Engaging in an argument with a consumer about concerns not based in fact simply doesn’t work. No matter what scientific credentials you present or what knowledge you convey, it will not gain the trust of the consumer unless first he/she feels that you have a connection, in other words, that you share the same values and concerns.

So, the first step is to listen. The goal is not to listen with the goal of formulating a response, but to listen with the goal of truly understanding the other person. The second step is to acknowledge the concern and then questions to invite more dialogue.

The third step is sharing your story. Let them know who you are and what matters to you. Show them that what’s important to them is important to you, too.

“Then, you can let them in on what you know in terms of the facts. Do not abandon science, but go easy on it. The goal is not to win the argument by superior knowledge, but to show the person that you are on their side. Frankly, for those of us that are trained in science, this approach is not easy.”  wrote Dzanis. “Engagement with consumers in the manner suggested by Beck may not only help you earn and retain consumer trust, but help you better understand your customers and their needs as well.”