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Meet Your New Boss: Part 4

Remember when transparent described a piece of glass that you could see through clearly, without distortion?

Now, it’s the hot buzzword to describe a way of doing business: open, honest, inclusive, trustworthy. Most industries have embraced it, and agriculture is trying, too. 

As a farmer, you are doing OK on the transparency issue. But not so well that you can claim victory, says new research from SHS FoodThink, an advertising and marketing agency that monitors Americans’ relationship with food and those who produce it (shsfoodthink.com).

While you’re getting better at opening your front door, telling your story, and building trust, you and the rest of the food industry are still climbing a hill.

Here are five highlights from the 2016 SHS FoodThink report, Evolving Trust in the Food Industry. The report is based on responses from over 2,000 U.S. consumers of diverse backgrounds, and it includes comparisons with 2012 and 2014 reports on the same topics.

 

Farmers and ranchers are considered more trustworthy than most others in the food value chain, including food companies and retailers. 

You’re even more trusted than the medical community!

About 60% of consumers think farmers and ranchers are very or somewhat trustworthy for food production information, second only to family and friends (68%) on the trustworthy scale. The medical community only gets a 54% trustworthy score. 

“I think it says that farmers are doing a good job of communicating with consumers,” says Christy Niebaum, SHS FoodThink senior strategist.

 

The trust score for farmers and ranchers is going up. In 2014, 53% of consumers considered farmers and ranchers very or somewhat trustworthy. Now, that number is 60%. 

Still, the trust scores aren’t all that high. Several common sources of food information don’t have the trust of 50% of consumers, and nobody exactly sets a high standard. 

Some of the other scores for very or somewhat trustworthy include USDA, 52%; grocers, 46%; the academic community, 44%; food companies, 34%; news organizations, 30%.

 

Only about a third of consumers think the agriculture community and food companies are transparent, according to this latest research. 

While that appears like a low standard, it’s actually up about 15% since 2012. 

“Consumer perceptions of transparency in the food industry are consistently improving, but there is plenty of room to grow there, too,” says Erika Chance, also an SHS FoodThink senior strategist. 

“The good news is, consumers are turning to food. companies and grocers for more information, because they do have an interest in learning more about the food they eat,” Chance says.

 

65% of consumers think it’s important to know how their food is produced. 

“This tells us that transparency in the food system is not just an option anymore; it’s an expectation and a necessity for agriculture,” says Ashley Daggs, research analyst.

“Farmers are a vital source of transparency. Food customers are comfortable with farmers, and when producers reach out to consumers, it puts a face with the product. It creates an opportunity to build transparency,” says Daggs.

 

Trust in social media is growing. This study confirms it. Social media and bloggers are considered very or somewhat trustworthy by 33% of all consumers and by 41% of millennials. 

While those numbers are not large, they’re almost double what they were four years ago. Niebaum says blogs and social media can be good avenues for farmers and ranchers to tell their stories.

“Do it on your own or partner with others in the food-value chain, like your local food retailers,” she says. “You can facilitate education about food production. People trust you and want to hear your farm or ranch story.”

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