Here we highlight the key findings from the report, and spotlight examples of ‘Transparency Trailblazers’ who are innovating to create total transparency, from farm to fork.
Consumer trust in food is crucial to the transformation of the food system. If we are to improve the health and sustainability of the European food system, consumers must have confidence in the processes and actors that are involved in the lifecycle of food products. Consumers must also trust that the information about these processes provided by food system stakeholders is authentic, accessible and transparent. Improving transparency would enable consumers to make more informed choices about the health, safety and sustainability of their food, presenting the industry with opportunities to work alongside them, drive positive change and build a more inclusive food system for all.
In order to understand the current levels of consumer trust in food, EIT Food carries out the annual TrustTracker® survey. This evidence-based, peer reviewed research maps European consumers' trust in the food value chain over time. It also includes key insights into their beliefs about the competency, care and openness of actors in the food system, and their confidence in the integrity of food products. The data from the most recent survey is described in the Trust Report 2021, where more than 20,000 consumers from 18 European countries were surveyed. This important work was supported by a consortium of pan-European academic partners.
The Trust Report 2021 revealed that just 47% of Europeans have confidence in the integrity of food products (1). This means that almost half of consumers do not actively trust that food products are authentic or safe, and that the information provided about them is honest. This represents the huge need and opportunity for the development of solutions to improve transparency. What’s more, only a third of consumers believe that their food is produced in a sustainable way (1). Consumers also have varying levels of trust for food system players, with food manufactures and authorities being trusted the least (1). Farmers, meanwhile, are considered the most trusted food system group by consumers, with 67% of those surveyed expressing trust in them as a group (1).
What does this mean for the future of food, and what are the top solutions for increasing consumer trust? We discuss four solutions to increase consumer trust in food, and share examples of ‘Transparency Trailblazers’ - the innovators and entrepreneurs improving transparency across the food system - leading the way:
- Utilising digital technologies to increase food supply chain transparency
- Being more transparent by sharing information about the production and processing of food directly with consumers
- Ensuring food innovation meets consumer expectations
- Connecting consumers with food industry stakeholders to enable co-creation
As interconnected systems with many stakeholders and processes, food supply chains can present economic, social and environmental gains to those involved, but also great risks (2). From human error and disruption to contamination and food fraud, digital technologies can alleviate and reduce many of the agrifood sector’s most pressing risks and increase transparency across the whole food supply chain (2).
The uptake of digital technology such as blockchain - a decentralised system for recording and protecting transactions and data - can be used to transparently relay information across the supply chain. Importantly, this greatly reduces the risk of human error, intervention and tampering which, in turn, can help to build trust across the whole supply chain, including with consumers. EIT Food RisingFoodStar Connecting Food, for example, has created a digital platform that can follow a product in real-time, tracking and digitally auditing each batch of products as they go through the supply chain.
“We're making retailers and food producers more profitable by increasing traceability in supply chains and providing transparency to the consumer about where their food comes from.”
Maxine Roper, CEO of Connecting Food (3)
On an episode of the Food Fight podcast, Maxine states that, for brands and retailers, “it is no longer an option to not be transparent.” (3) She explains that, despite supply chains being complex, brands and retailers have a responsibility to ensure their supply chains are safe, sustainable and ethical, and that technologies such as blockchain can help to achieve, track and prove this, and improve consumer trust as a result.
Hear more from Connecting Food on the Food Fight podcast:
2. Being more transparent by sharing information about the production and processing of food directly with consumers
Digital technologies can also be used to transparently share information so that food system stakeholders can make more informed decisions about the food they buy, sell and consume. Whether it be evidence surrounding health and sustainability claims, food safety or product authenticity, it is important for consumers and businesses to have access to evidenced information about food products in order to improve trust.
The TRACOD EIT Food project, for example, aims to achieve greater transparency around product authenticity via its fish monitoring system. The system developed in the TRACOD product combines spectrometer readings, deep learning and artificial intelligence to monitor and authenticate the quality, freshness and nutritional value of fish products. TRACOD then generates a database of information that can then be communicated to producers and consumers via a mobile app.
The TRACOD project is also helping to prepare the future generation of food innovators by providing them with training courses about best practice in information sharing and the importance of transparency in the food system. “More and more companies will rely on technological means rather than somebody’s promise,” says Dov Dori, Co-ordinator of the TRACOD Project (4). “Our solution can enable you to be certain that what you buy and sell is indeed what you buy and sell, and that the consumer at the end of the farm to fork chain can enjoy the food with its nutritional value as they expected and not something that is inferior in quality. Technology is not biased.” (4)
Hear more about TRACOD on the Food Fight podcast:
“Just like a human has a unique fingerprint, so too does a fish. If the spectrometer, deep learning and artificial intelligence model proves that the fish in question is indeed the correct fish, you do not have to rely on and trust somebody’s word.”
Dov Dori, Co-ordinator of the TRACOD Project (4)
It is important for food industry stakeholders to understand consumers’ expectations when it comes to food innovation so that new products entering the market are accepted by consumers and become part of their everyday diets. However, with just 37% of Europeans saying they would be open to adopting new foods into their diets (1), it is clear there is a gap between innovation and consumer trust.
With small to medium enterprises (SMEs) making up approximately 90% of European food and beverage companies (5), startups play an important role in bridging this gap. With the scale of innovation in products such as cultivated meat accelerating rapidly, it could be easy for consumers to feel left behind, confused and, as a result, apprehensive about trusting food innovation. In fact, the Trust Report 2021 highlighted that, when it comes to food innovation, a lack of consumer trust often stems from a lack of knowledge about innovation (1). This highlights the importance of education and the co-creation of innovation with consumers.
Cultured meat, or lab-grown meat, is a good example of this. Despite being a new innovation which has a lot of potential to transform the way we produce meat, cultured meat is not yet on the European market, so consumer acceptance of this novel food is difficult to accurately predict. Forecasts suggest consumer acceptance of cultured meat is likely to vary across Europe, with some countries such as the UK recording just a 34% projected acceptance rate (6). Reasons for ‘not being willing to try’ cultured meat included food safety concerns and a lack of knowledge about how these products would be regulated (6). “This important survey highlights that, while many consumers are considering trying alternative proteins, they will quite rightly only do so if they are confident that these products are safe and properly regulated,” said Professor Robin May, Food Safety Authority Chief Scientific Adviser (6).
Didier Toubier, Co-founder and CEO of RisingFoodStars alum Aleph Farms, creators of cultured steaks, is more upbeat about the likely consumer acceptance of cultured meat, noting their own research as suggesting it could be as high as 80% in some countries (7). However, to achieve these levels of acceptance, Didier stresses the importance of working closely with consumers over the long term. “We need to make sure that we develop the right products and the right platforms to meet the consumers’ expectations,” he said. “There is a risk that some companies will launch products which cut corners in terms of quality, nutritional value and safety just to get there quickly. We should make sure that we invest in building long term acceptance rather than being under pressure to achieve short-term goals. We're in the long-term play here.” (7)
Hear more about Aleph Farms on the Food Fight podcast:
It is crucial for all stakeholders across the food value chain, including consumers, to work together using an inclusive systems approach to co-create initiatives that increase trust in food.
Projects such as the EIT Food Consumer Trust Grand Challenge, for example, provide platforms for dialogue between consumers and other food system stakeholders, such as food companies, industry bodies, non-governmental organisations, regulatory authorities, policymakers and the media.
The platform enables consumers and food industry representatives to directly debate important issues related to trust in food to then co-design a series of initiatives that increase consumers' trust in food as well as their support for the companies and organisations involved.
On the Food Fight podcast, the project lead Richard Bennett from the University of Reading, said the project aims to support consumers so that they have “less uncertainty about the products they consume, and will be able to consume with confidence” (8). He explained that this also directly benefits the industry, with consumers having more trust and loyalty for food brands as a result (8). “Consumers want to see greater transparency in relation to the ingredients in their food, the providence of their food, how it is produced, and to have faith that what they’re being told by producers is actually true.” (8)
Hear more about the Consumer Trust Grand Challenge on the Food Fight podcast:
The future of consumer trust in food
Despite the different methods to improve consumer trust in food, the issues cannot be tackled in isolation. These Transparency Trailblazers highlight the importance of collaboration between all stakeholders, including consumers, the co-creation of innovation and solutions, and an inclusive systems approach to improving transparency.
“Consumers want to see greater transparency in relation to the ingredients in their food, the providence of their food, how it is produced, and to have faith that what they’re being told by producers is actually true.”
Richard Bennett, Dean for Food and Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Reading (8)
We encourage you to join our community to learn more about the EIT Food activities and entrepreneurs seeking to improve trust, share your ideas about how to better maintain and increase consumer trust in Europe, and learn more in the EIT Food Trust Report 2021.
- EIT Food: Trust Report 2021
- WEF: 5 ways traceability technologies can lead to a safer, more sustainable world
- EIT Food: EIT Food Fight: Connecting Food on blockchain transparency in the food system
- EIT Food: EIT Food Fight: TRACOD on fresh fish transparency
- FoodDrinkEurope: Small & medium enterprises (SMEs) at the heart of Europe’s food and drink industry
- Food Standards Agency: A third of UK consumers are willing to try lab-grown meat and a quarter would try insects
- EIT Food: EIT Food Fight: High steaks: will cultured meat save the planet?
- EIT Food: EIT Food Fight: The consumer trust challenge