Industry ready for 'frank and honest' dialogue with consumers on savoury ingredients

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Consumer protection

The European food industry is aiming to have an honest and frank dialogue with the consumer, with a new forum established last week by ingredients consultancy Giract.

A meeting in Geneva on 21 March kick-started the project ‘How to regain consumer trust in the European savoury sector’​ and included key stakeholders such as food manufacturers like Nestlé, as well as a range of ingredient suppliers and trade associations.

Giract claims consumers have been receiving mixed messages on certain ingredients due to sensational media reports, in tandem with particular interest groups pushing the negative perception around taste enhancers to ingredients such as yeast extract.

Indeed, December last year saw European producers of speciality yeast products coming out in strong defence of the use of yeast extracts in food following claims from consumer advocates such as FoodWatch in Germany that the industry’s use of such ingredients and labelling around them is deceptive.

‘No added’ claims don’t help

Giract also lays part of the blame for consumer fear and mistrust at the door of the food industry itself citing the raft of products with ‘no added…’ or ‘free from…’ claims, while also citing manufacturers and suppliers heavy investment in research to find alternatives to ingredients having poor public perception, despite no scientific support for safety concerns.

V. Krishnakumar, managing direct of the Switzerland based consultancy, said the goal of the new savoury food consumer trust initiative is to get industry to act with one voice and provide balance to the unsubstantiated arguments that are creating consumer anxiety through greater transparency and consistency of information.

Next steps

He said the proposal has come out of in-depth and repeated discussions at Giract’s annual Savoury Flavour Conference over the past few years.

Speaking to this morning, Sean Westcott, R&D Manager, Food Strategic Business Unit at Nestlé, who participated in last week’s inaugural forum meeting, said there was stakeholder consenus on the need to set up a working group to take the agenda forward.

“We received a positive response on the issue from attendees at last week’s Savoury Flavour Conference regarding participation in a steering committee on the initiative.

We are going to allow a couple of weeks to pass to give them time to discuss the issue at company level and then get firm commitments and a date for the working group to meet,”​ he explained.

Open dialogue

Westcott said the goal of the savoury food sector in particular is to address how to “sustain the conversation”​ with consumers over the long term and what are the most effective ways of engaging in open dialogue with the public on the use of ingredients .

He cites as an example consumer anxiety over the use of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in foods as arising from their receiving mixed messages from regulators, scientists and NGOs on the ingredient and he said food manufacturers like Nestlé have a critical role to play to ensure shoppers get balanced information on such culinary food components.

Asked whether the forum intends to engage regulatory bodies in the food transparency project, Westcott said that the involvement of governmental organisations is crucial and in the consumer’s best interest.

Leveraging new technology

Hilary Green, head of R&D communication at Nestlé added that the Swiss food group has ‘observer status’ but is not directly involved in discussions in the recently launched, EU Commission backed, Food Information Transparency Initiative (FITI).

The FITI is hoping to leverage smart phone technology to provide consumers with impartial information on foods beyond what is printed on the label.

“We are evaluating all such methods of engaging with consumers on transparency around ingredients,”​ she added.


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