EIT Food TrustTracker®
The EIT Food TrustTracker® is an evidenced-based questionnaire which has been developed to measuring consumer trust in the food industry and is an important first step towards understanding this gap. It will provide valuable insights which will be used to enhance consumer trust in the food value chain.
Introduction to the TrustTracker®
Consumer trust in the food system is complex because it involves many different actors: retailers, manufacturers, government authorities, and farmers all play a role.
The TrustTracker® maps European consumers’ trust in the food value chain and its different actors – from farm to fork to policy. Based on scientific insights, a model for measuring consumer trust has been developed. This evidence-based tool looks at differences within countries and by actor. The data is tracked annually to monitor developments and compare trust levels over time.
When trust is strong, we are able to get consumers on board with innovations and plant-based diets that can move the EU towards a healthier and more sustainable food system.
Our methodology is transparent and available to everyone.
EIT Food’s TrustTracker® has found that the openness of food system actors – their activities, the information they offer and their honesty – and their competence is of primary importance in establishing consumer trust. The perceived openness of food system actors, and especially of manufacturers, is most important in determining how confident consumers are in the integrity of the food supply and of the technologies used to produce it. Key findings from our first wave of data collection in 2018, in 5 EU countries (DE, ES, FR, PL, and UK), include the following. In 2019, the TrustTracker® will expand to 13 European countries.
- European consumers most trust farmers, followed by retailers.
- Spanish and British consumers display the highest levels of overall trust.
- German and French consumers have significantly lower levels of social trust towards others.
- European consumers are most confident in their food’s taste and safety (followed by healthiness, authenticity, and sustainability).
- British and Spanish consumers are most confident in food integrity (related to safety, health, sustainability, authenticity, and tastiness)
- European consumers are most confident in the taste and safety of food technologies (British and Spanish consumers are the most confident, overall, in food technologies.)
- European consumers are not particularly motivated towards innovativeness.
- European consumers are more motivated to eat sustainably than they are to eat healthily.
How it works
Each year, the TrustTracker® will build on the previous years’ data to track changes in EU consumers’ levels of trust in aspects of the food system. People who exhibit trust in the food value chain (and its actors) are more confident about food integrity and food technology integrity. Food integrity includes taste, safety, health, authenticity and sustainability. So far, no study has made such an explicit link between trust and its effects.
EIT Food partners University of Reading (project lead), the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), Aarhus University, KU Leuven, and University of Warsaw developed the model behind the TrustTracker® tool. This model is designed to measure consumer trust in the food system, determinants of trust, beliefs in the trustworthiness of food actors – in their care, competence and openness – and the effects of trust on consumer confidence in foods and food technologies.
The model looks at how determinants of trust lead to consumer trust in the food system (comprised of beliefs about trustworthiness and trust in the actors of the food system), and how this leads to confidence in food and technology integrity. Additionally, it suggests that trust influences the relationship between consumer motivations (e.g., living a healthy or sustainable lifestyle) and their intentions and behaviour.
Information from the TrustTracker® can be used by food producers, manufacturers, retailers, and policy makers to map and monitor European trust levels over time, to identify gaps in trust, and to understand how to improve the relationship with consumers. This can lead to a more trusted, reliable, and stronger food system. In the future, the TrustTracker® can be expanded to measure changes in trust in specific food sectors and brands and can look at how to repair trust that is lost.
Additionally, a series of focus groups in each country, called the Citizen Participation Forum, explore each year’s TrustTracker® survey results in more detail. Between 150-200 participants in each country are selected in a way that balances urban vs. rural and age ranges. This dialogue provides more in-depth detail behind why consumers respond the way they do in the survey in each country.
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.”
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.
The TrustTracker® - a graphic overview