September 28, 2021

Social media era results in consumer desire for transparency

ST. LOUIS — Transparency for consumers goes beyond talking about how food is produced.

“Transparency for consumers today means having the tools and capabilities to understand a company’s values, ethics and methods and how they put them into action,” said Eve Pollet, senior vice president for strategic intelligence at Dairy Management Inc.

“Transparency isn’t just about the origin story of your product, but it’s about showing consumers exactly how it’s made from start to finish, what goes into your product, what makes it a superior product and being proud and open about what you do,” Pollet said during a presentation at the InfoAg Conference hosted by The Fertilizer Institute.

Pollet noted that according to the Food Industry Association, 81% of consumers say transparency is important to them while shopping for food and beverage items.

“And 75% of consumers desire full transparency from brands they purchase from,” Pollet said.

“This is the social media era where information overshare is the norm and the expectation,” she said during the virtual conference. “Any person that has an internet connection and a cell phone has more access to information that the U.S. president did 20 years ago.”

Consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, think anyone who contributes to producing food or beverages has everything to lose and nothing to hide, Pollet said.

“They prefer to choose products that have nothing to hide,” Pollet said.

“We are seeing many emerging technologies that will allow for transparency on levels we have never seen before,” she said. “These technologies will mean that analyzing sustainability commitments or quality throughout the food supply chain will always be on.”

DNA sequencing and mapping will allow for transparency at a microbial level.

“We will see what effects bacteria, viruses, etc., have on food safety,” Pollet said.

“DNA sequencing combined with artificial intelligence and cloud computing will be able to tell us what bacterial strains will give better flavor or lead to product degradation,” she said. “We will know which bacteria strains will help with specific health outcomes or even which ones will help to preserve our products longer.”

Lasers and sensors are going to be able to tell consumers exactly what is in food products at the molecular level.

“They will tell us whether the olive oil is really from Italy,” Pollet said.

“Blockchain will be used to verify quality and sustainability commitments and will be used as a tool to understand what conditions products need to be grown under for different tastes,” she said.

Pollet expects data to find new problems as well as new solutions for consumers.

“We will go from a couple of key factors in decision-making for food and beverage purchases like price or determining freshness and quality by labels and touch and feel to hundreds more,” she said. “You will be able to check the exact freshness down to the day to see how ripe your fruit is, how far it traveled and whether you should eat it on Thursday or Friday.”

Satellites will become more important for the food industry.

“Thousands of small satellites have launched and are projected to launch in the next decade,” Pollet said. “They have the ability to constantly monitor activity on earth.”

Flow is a sensor device that currently is available for about $175, Pollet said.

“It clips on your back like a keychain, connects to your phone and tells you the exact quality of the air you’re breathing,” she said. “Flow and its app give you the minute by minute breakdown of the pollutants you’re exposed to throughout your day.”

As a result, environmental toxins may become the new calories, Pollet said.

“We’ve been seeing detox products on the market, especially in Asia for the last decade,” she said. “They include everything from activated charcoal to natural ingredients claiming to detox consumers from heavy metals and pollution they come in contact with during the day.”

Animal care could become an interactive concept and something consumers will determine themselves.

“Arla, a Danish-Swedish dairy co-op, is already starting to do this by piloting an animal care app in Finland as a way for consumers to trace their milk cartons all the way back to the farm,” Pollet said. “It gives consumers access to information about how products are made with traceable information on animal welfare.”

IBM recently launched an app called Thank My Farmer, Pollet said.

“It uses blockchain to help consumers connect with their coffee growers,” she said. “The app allows coffee drinkers to trace their coffee to understand its quality, origin and to support the farmer who grew the beans by donating to sustainability projects that the farmer can list on the app.”

In the future, Pollet said, apps like this will allow consumers to have a two-way dialog with farmers.

“Consumers will have new methods to vote with their wallets for farmers and products they connect the best with,” Pollet said.

“The one with the data wins and data will always be misinterpreted,” she said. “That’s why if you can’t relate accuracy to consumers in a digestible way, someone else will — right, fair or not.”

Emerging technologies will provide thousands of storytelling opportunities, Pollet said.

“They will give everyone the opportunity to transform consumers into fans or foes,” she said.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor