As food consumers, we’re still hunter/gatherers. Only today, we’re hunting and gathering information about food – and we’re doing it online. There are two groups of consumers that have a particularly voracious appetite for online information, and more importantly, a significant influence over others’ food choices.
The latest consumer research from The Center for Food Integrity shows that Early Adopters and Innovators – described as those who actively seek information, make up their minds sooner, adopt ideas first, and whom others look to for guidance – are more influenced by food information online than consumers in general. See the infographic below for more information.
Our research highlights the differences. Issues of affordability, nutrition and food safety are more impactful on Early Adopters’ buying decisions. Online information is much more impactful on the opinions of Early Adopters when it comes to issues of food safety, nutrition and GMO foods. And what Early Adopters do – others follow.
The dilemma is not all online information about food upon which Early Adopters and others rely is credible – and often, unfounded fear drives content and discussions, and impacts choices.
So how do we reach the Early Adopters where they live to bring balance to the conversation?
Our online messages must connect with values. They need to know that you share their values when it comes to the key issues like food safety, nutrition and affordability. The CFI consumer trust model illustrates that connecting with shared values is three-to-five times more important to building trust than simply providing information.
In fact, in past research when we’ve provided survey respondents with information only about food issues, their trust actually declined. Providing information impacts knowledge; connecting with values impacts feelings and beliefs – and that’s how decisions are made.
Consumers just want to be assured that you’re doing the right things for the right reasons.
Click the graphic to download a pdf of the infograph.
It’s natural to come to the defense of people and things we hold dear when they are under attack. So, it’s understandable that the comedy series produced by Chipotle, which satirizes agriculture as an industry driven by greed, rankles modern food producers who are justifiably proud of the manner in which they provide safe, nutritious, affordable food.
The natural inclination might be to hold Chipotle accountable for their outrageous attacks. A key question is, what's the best way to engage to minimize the negative impact and encourage a more balanced public discussion of today's agriculture?
The show centers on a heavy-handed corporate agriculture giant quashing dissent and objection from those concerned about how food is produced. Chipotle could well be hoping conventional agriculture responds in the same way to the series, which would reinforce their story line and promote their perspective that there’s something to hide.
CFI believes a better strategy is to engage those who are taking part in the conversation to introduce them to real farmers, like those featured in Farmers Feed US and in other programs. Individuals like Annie Link will help demonstrate the way real farmers operate, using technology to care for animals, people and the planet. They align with the values of the vast majority of Americans and are nothing like the villains portrayed in the Chipotle series.
Co-opting and using Chipotle’s #foodwithintegrity hashtag on Twitter allows us to engage with those who are interested without bringing additional attention to the issue. While we fully recognize that farmers are justifiably angry about the unfair and unflattering representation, drawing additional attention might push more viewers to watch. Engaging through online channels and using their hashtag allows us to participate with those who are interested without promoting the series or Chipotle.
We can also use satire to attack satire. In engaging mainstream media, we can use analogies to reinforce that this is entertainment with a point of view and nothing more. “Farmed and Dangerous” is no more an accurate depiction of American agriculture than “Family Guy” is an accurate depiction of the American family.
The increased interest in food today is something that should be embraced by consumers and the food system alike. Incidents such as food recalls and undercover video investigations have created a healthy level of consumer skepticism and a demand for more transparency. Instead of attacking our attackers, why not seize the opportunity to talk about what we’re doing to responsibly produce safe, nutritious and affordable food? The Center for Food Integrity offers help on identifying if and when you should respond at our Engage Resource Center.
The other night, my husband and I sat down and watched a new show on the National Geographic Channel called Brain Games. In the episode, "Trust Me" we learned that humans have an innate tendency to put faith in others, and that we tend to make quick decisions about who to trust, often based upon visual cues such as the shape of a person’s face.
When watching the episode, I couldn't help but think about the Consumer Trust Model.
Earning and Maintaining the Social License (Sapp/CMA)
For those in the food system, sustainable trust is your most valuable asset. With a high level of trust, you enjoy a strong social license and more operating freedom. Once you violate public trust, you put your social license and the entire business at risk. A significant violation of public trust could be the end of your business. The fundamental question then becomes, how do we build public trust in today’s food system? At CFI, we’ve been researching that issue for many years.
One of the most important elements to building trust is confidence or the perception of shared values. In other words, do you and I share the same values, and can I count on you to do “what’s right?” The perception of shared values or confidence is three to five times more important than demonstrating technical competence in building trust.
Historically, we’ve had the communication equation exactly backward. We’ve been talking about our science and technical skills when the foundation for building trust is our values. Knowing that communicating our values is three to five times more important that scientific proof helps us design more effective outreach that builds trust in today’s food system. This research has been peer reviewed and published in a scholarly journal.
It goes back to the old adage, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and because of the change in our size, scale and use of technology, we have to be more effective in demonstrating our commitment to the values and priorities of the public if we want them to support the practices in today’s system.
Charlie Arnot, CEO, Center for Food Integrity, reviews 2013 highlights.
Our research shows that today’s consumer is more skeptical than ever. We took to the streets as part of our 2013 Consumer Trust in the Food System research to hear what they had to say.
“I don’t trust the food supply. In our world of marketing we do a lot of hedging and not quite telling the truth.”
So what will it take to gain consumers’ trust? Our research shows that transparency is the key. But what is true transparency? We measured it. Learn more about the Seven Steps to Trust-Building Transparency and how agriculture and food can build trust and overcome the "big food is bad" bias.