If you didn’t think 2017’s fake news and hate speech would be affecting your food or drink brand into 2018, then think again.
Market research agency Mintel has just published its 2018 European Consumer Trends Report, and accountancy and transparency will be the watchwords for all FMCG manufacturers.
“In a world of post-truth politics and unsubstantiated media, consumers are looking for brands to court them with transparency, simplicity and evidence,” write senior trends consultant Richard Cope and trends manager for the EMEA region, Catherine Cottney.
“Consumer distrust in governments and media is spreading to companies, and so is the clamour for truth and transparency in ingredients and behind-the-scenes processes.
The analysts predict that in 2018, more and more companies will adopt an ‘open kitchen’ approach and “use their packaging, portals and premises to practise truth and transparency”.
And although technology and the abundance of information have played their part in generating much of this mistrust, they can, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, also be leveraged to restore trust and confidence.
There are a number of brands already doing this. Waitrose famously used a 'cow cam' to stream videos of its dairy herds roaming free, while other firms are using virtual reality to show the public how their products are made.
Mexican tequila brand Patron created a virtual reality video demonstrating the entire farm-to-fork (or should that be cactus-to-glass) process of artisan tequila-making while Scottish whiskey brand Glenfiddich has done so for its distilleries.
Total transparency: Lush gives a cost breakdown
Meanwhile, many manufacturers may have embraced the switch to ‘clean label’ ingredients or use of ethical certification logos, such as Fairtrade or non-GMO, to indicate that ingredients have been sustainably sourced, but for those wanting to stay ahead of the curve, that simply isn't enough.
Mintel gave the example of British handmade cosmetics company Lush, which explains in detail on its website the origin and use of all the ingredients in its cosmetics, including the more chemical-sounding preservatives. It also explains where the cost goes, in terms of ingredient sourcing, manufacturing and manual labour.
“We’ve also seen Russia’s Dodo Pizza, which is expanding across the UK soon, use live CCTV-style feed of sales, orders and processes via a kitchen-cam,” Cope told FoodNavigator. “And in the US, wine company Alit is proving that wine pricing is not arbitrary by listing the costs.”
Social media is good…
“With consumers more able to question and query the actions of brands, radical transparency will be the watchword for 2018 as they try and show they can be relied upon as trustworthy.”
According to the analysts, social media is forcing food and drink companies to be more transparent.
“[This is] because brands are exposed to bad news which travels fast on social media, and consumers are more likely to share complaints than praise. Plus social media has created a very open, visual consumer culture, which brands are expected to join and embrace.”
The market researchers asked 2,000 Europeans if they thought the ability to communicate and find information via social media or the internet was forcing food and drink companies to be more transparent, and 65% of Italians agreed, followed by 63% of Spaniards, 60% of Poles, 54% of Germans and 50% of the more sceptical French.
French supermarket chain U is one company using social media to its advantage. Its 2017 campaign used Snapchat Stories to demonstrate just how fresh its fish are.
“The 24-hour window of Snapchat stories is perfect for conveying freshness, embodied in a time-limited medium” said Cope.
…but maybe not enough
But communicating on social media platforms will not suffice, said Cope.
Technology such as Blockchain could be one way in which companies can ‘go deeper’ to prove their supply chain credibility to consumers. “In terms of sourcing relationships with third parties this would bring transparency."
Ambrosus, for example, is a Swiss company that combines high-tech sensors, Blockchain protocol and smart contracts to record the entire history of food and pharmaceutical products. Consumers can then use their smartphones to access 'tamper-proof' data about their product at any stage in its supply chain life cycle.