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News & Media: Staff Columns

Building customer trust starts with farmer transparency

Tuesday, April 4, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lauren Brey, director of marketing and research
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It seems that customers have more questions about food every day. Where does it come from? Who is producing it? How was it made?

Apparently, the dairy community’s attempts at explaining what we do and why aren’t hitting home. So what is the key to helping our customers understand our practices and trust that the food we are helping produce is safe and of high quality?

The answer lies in transparency. Today, transparency is fundamental to doing business because it is a fundamental expectation of customers. Transparency is no longer optional when trust is the goal.

Building trust does not happen from simply giving customers more information, more research or more science. It all boils down to demonstrating that you share their values when it comes to the topics they care about, such as quality nutrition, safe food, great animal care and environmental stewardship.

The Center for Food Integrity is a leading voice in the food system with customers and was the first to introduce a research-based customers trust model. The center completed three years of research on in 2015. Key findings:

⦁    Food safety and impact of food on health are rated as the most important issues related to transparency to customers. They want such information listed on the product label.

⦁    Customers want the opportunity to ask questions (via company websites) about:
      ⦁    Environmental performance
      ⦁    Labor practices and human rights
      ⦁    Animal well-being
      ⦁    They also want companies to accept responsibility for business activity.

The study found that customers hold food manufacturers most responsible for transparency, followed by farmers. They want transparency in all aspects of food production such as safety, impact on health and on-farm animal well-being.

The center began analyzing transparency in 2013 by studying the causes of social outrage and how to effectively manage it to build trust. Two ingredients are needed to trigger outrage: 1) a high level of concern about the issue and a strong level of belief that the issue will have a personal impact and 2) impact on vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly.

For example, a video showing animal abuse may trigger a high level of concern but doesn’t directly impact “me and my family.” In contrast, a food safety incident that results in sickness is more likely to cause outrage as it is both concerning and potentially impacts the health of “me and my family.”

This study also revealed “that effectively managing situations that cause social outrage directly influences public trust.” And, key to effective management is transparency.

So how do we reach trust-building transparency? Providing customers concrete examples of business practices is important as well as storytelling. Talking about and showing what you do is key – and farmers have the perfect opportunity to do this through avenues like social media and farm tours.

Describing specific practices was most predictive of trust. This is because practices are a reflection of internal motivation and they are a demonstration of your values in action. And as previous research has shown, demonstrating shared values is the foundation for building trust!

Two companies that are tackling transparency head on are Campbell’s and Hershey’s. Both companies offer extensive information on their websites about their products.

For example, Campbell’s has a “Real Food Index” that tracks progress on their goals, such as removing artificial colors and artificial flavors. They break it down visually to make it easy to understand. (See Fig. 1). To see more, visit or

Figure 1.

Building trust with customers will take effort by the entire food chain, from farmers to food processors to retailers. Farmers are perfectly equipped to demonstrate their values in action. Providing the best possible care for the livestock under their care is a core value all farmers share, and they live it each day.

What are you doing to share your values with your community? If you’d like help getting started, please reach out to DBMMC!

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