In today’s digital society, transparency is vital. Trust in brands has reduced among consumers, according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report.
People don’t take a brand at face-value, they have less trust in traditional advertising and like to fact-check any claims made. This means if brands are not transparent - operating in an open and accountable way - and do not provide evidence to prove their claims, they are less likely to be trusted.
What is transparency and why is it important?
Information about the journey that products make ‘from farm to fork’ is a big part of transparency, and therefore when we talk about transparency, we often need to think about the traceability of products. This might include information about:
- Where products have come from - for example eggs from Italian chickens,
- How the product is stored - for example peas frozen within 2 ½ hours of being picked in the field,
- How much producers receive per unit in exchange for the product produced – for example, the amount a farmer receives per litre of milk sold.
However, we are increasingly seeing claims being used as a marketing tool to entice consumers to buy products, often through false or exaggerated information. So, what is being done to help consumers know if they can trust their products?
Tracing products across the food value chain
Traceability and auditing procedures do exist, and some of them are mandatory, for instance being able to trace the origin of fruits and vegetables, with each actor responsible for the traceability of what they receive and what they send out. However, no one has the complete overview of what is happening along the food value chain. On top of that, auditing procedures lack efficiency. For example, they are often done in person and on a small percentage of production.
“On one hand, transparency is about reconnecting with consumers, and on the other hand it is about leveraging the existing data and auditing procedures to make them more efficient.” Explains Coline Laurent, Marketing and Communications Manager for French startup Connecting Food.
“In the past, marketing of food has been based on a culture of secrets, and essentially hiding everything happening to food products, along the value chain. This was because marketing was focused on telling ‘a beautiful story’ to the consumers, to make them want to buy into the brand. Unfortunately, this has led to a lot of consumers feeling abused by the brands, and not trusting claims that are made about products.”
Transparency through blockchain
Connecting Food uses blockchain technology - linking data across the supply chain - to make food more transparent. They have created a digital platform that can follow a product in real-time, tracking and digitally auditing each batch or production as it goes through the food supply chain.
The French startup was created in 2016 by Maxine Roper and Stefano Volpi, two experts who had both spent over 20 years of their careers in the food industry, giving them a deep understanding of the sector and of the barriers to transparency in the food value chain.
The technology developed by Connecting Food collects data from along the supply chain, from producers to manufacturers to retailers, and links it all together in order to ensure the traceability of products.
This information is then made available to consumers, who can scan a QR code on the product to access information and data about what they are buying.
A recent study of the first digitally certified milk brand Prospérité, showed that 87% of people had an increased satisfaction level with the brand regardless of whether they had scanned the QR code. As such, it appears that it is the act of being transparent and the accessibility to information that increases trust.
“You can’t be transparent on your own”
Connecting Food are part of a food-focused tech startup accelerator called Shakeup Factory located in Station F, a startup campus in Paris. It was here they were introduced to EIT Food, and became a RisingFoodStar – EIT Food’s network of food-tech startups.
Coline describes the benefits of the relationship: “You can't be transparent on your own, you need to work in partnerships. So being part of a network that brings together all of the different stakeholders in the food chain is really important for us.
“We really want to take part in international programmes, and to do this, we need to be working with the big players - many of them are associated with EIT Food and so access to partnerships through the network is a key asset for us. All that we do is about partnering up with other actors.”
Further benefits have come from increasing the startup’s visibility, for instance Connecting Food were featured on the EIT Food stand at Future Food-Tech last October. “It was really good for us because when you’re a startup you might be quite well known in your own territory, but then you go outside of this and you don't have any visibility. To have an organisation like EIT Food presenting you, helps to introduce you to the international startup scene.”
“EIT Food has also recently helped us to attend their annual Venture Summit event in Portugal, enabling us to network with investors from all over Europe, and basically helping us raise awareness about who we are, what we do, and the transparency problem that we address.”
The future of food is transparent
The RisingFoodStar has already demonstrated the scalability of their technology. Their work with Coop Italia tracks approx. 250,000 organic eggs per day, proving that the platform is tailored to industrial needs.
“We want to change the system to make it more transparent, and to do this, we cannot be the kind of startup that does proof of concept on a very small scale. We always work with the focus on being able to scale up to the industry level - this scalability is key.”
They are currently working on 10 different food chains in Europe, tracking for example, brands of milk, honey, meat, fruits, vegetables, and biscuits, but the technology has been designed to cover the needs of any food chain. Building on this, over the next year they hope to expand into the USA.
Despite this success, Coline insists they haven’t forgotten the importance of community “We've noticed that very spontaneously, our clients have started recommending us to their peers. Interestingly, once an industrial partner is involved in a transparency project, and they see the benefits, they want their network to do the same. This year we are trying to turn this into a real community, which we want to bring together to focus on transparency and building trust.”
Want to learn more about transparency? Read the blog that discusses the importance of short supply chains in promoting a transparent food system. Click here
EIT Food’s projects and partners are committed to increasing consumer trust through transparency. Learn about the EIT Food project that is digitalising food supply chains here
About the author: Dr Lucy Wallace is a freelance writer with a background in research communications and an interest in novel engagement methods with diverse audiences.