Bridging the trust gap in the food sector
Dr Anna Macready explains how EIT Food’s TrustTracker® is vital to improving consumers’ faith in the food industry.
Anna Macready’s background in psychology, nutrition and consumer research make her ideally placed to lead the team behind EIT Food’s TrustTracker® project, the flagship pan-European initiative to measure consumer perceptions of the food sector.
The TrustTracker® is the result of a coordinated effort between the Universities of Reading (Dr Anna Macready) and Warsaw (Dr Magdalena Klimczuk-Kochańska), KU Leuven (Dr Liesbet Vranken) and the European Food Information Council (EUFIC – Dr Sophie Hieke). Together they have spent the last 12 months reviewing the concept of consumer trust, latterly with the help of expert consumer scientist Professor Klaus Grunert from Aarhus University. This review was used by the team to develop a conceptual model and a corresponding consumer TrustTracker® for the 7-year project. It is this degree of rigour and transparency in their approach that makes the EIT Food TrustTracker® unique: other trust measuring tools currently in use are owned by commercial organisations where the full scientific foundations for the tool are not always made clear.
The initiative marks an important first step in building consumer trust in the food sector. While the food industry is keen to improve their market offerings to address consumer health and environmental needs, there are still low levels of trust in the food sector. Potentially, this results from a gap between what consumers want and need, and what the food industry as a whole currently provides. Yet importantly, we don’t currently have the right tools to measure consumer trust, which is key to understanding and improving consumers’ faith in food. Anna believes that:
“In order to understand low consumer trust, you have to start by measuring baseline consumer trust levels, which is one of the key aims of the project.”
Once this is in place, the project will then track changes in consumer perceptions of the food industry over time and highlight key areas for development.
The project is about to launch its initial pilot phase to survey 500 participants from a representative demographic across 5 CLC countries (UK, Germany, Poland, France and Spain). Later in 2018, a further 5,000 people will be surveyed in the same countries as part of the ‘first wave’ of consumer data. Each year more citizens will be engaged, building from 10,000 in 2019 to 147,000 people in total across all EIT food regions by 2024.
Anna talks about the outcomes the team are looking to achieve for the TrustTracker® project. Most importantly:
“The project team want consumers to feel reassured that they have a voice, so that they can identify areas in their own lives to improve their health, wellbeing and sustainable choices.”
At a macro-level, EIT Food hopes the project will inform government policy and help the food industry improve practices that will ultimately encourage a genuinely consumer-centric focus across the whole value chain.
We also want to ensure that the insights gained from the TrustTracker® will generate further projects truly based on consumer needs, as it is these projects that will be pivotal in promoting consumer trust and engagement with the food industry. Furthermore, while theTrustTracker® will provide us with key consumer insights, we will need to combine this information with other kinds of feedback from citizens and key industry players in order to build holistic solutions.
When asked what Anna has enjoyed the most about leading the project so far, it is obvious that the initiative has already sparked her passion for solving grand intellectual challenges:
“The sheer scope of a project like this has been fascinating to me and the team. To try and conceptualise ‘trust’ and link this to the goals and objectives of EIT Food and the food industry has been a great opportunity and very rewarding.”
The project page of the TrustTracker® can be found here.
Dr Anna Macready is a Lecturer in Consumer Behaviour and Marketing at the University of Reading and a member of the University’s School of Agriculture, Policy and Development's Agri-Food Economics and Social Sciences (AFESS) Division. She holds a PhD in Psychology and Nutrition and is a registered Nutritionist in Public Health. More information about Anna can be found here.