PR agency Ketchum has urged the US dairy industry to engage those responsible for the growing criticism of food - the food evangelist - who until now the food industry has "failed to listen to."
Speaking at the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) Dairy Forum 2014 last week, Linda Eatherton from Ketchum Public Relations said that the food industry as a whole has "failed to listen" to these individuals.
According to research conducted by Ketchum, these food evangelists represent around 11% of the US population and “push out opinions about food and about agriculture four plus times per week on- and offline.”
“This group simply wants to be heard and to be respected,” she said. “As an industry, we have failed to listen.”
“We are not reaching these evangelists, because these individuals are not focused on facts, they’re focused on emotions.”
“They’re picking up information from all sorts of places and sources but they do not accept information coming through marketing channels. So basically, they don’t hear you, they don’t see you, and no matter how much information, science and facts we put out, they simply don’t see it,” she said.
“Highly educated… grossly misinformed”
“These people are so different from your core consumer,” said Eatherton. “They’re not activists…they are self-appointed agents of change characterized by aggressive on- and offline conversations.”
“What is really interesting is that their income is well above average - highly educated individuals who are grossly misinformed about what technology is or is not.”
With regards to the dairy industry, these individuals have been responsible for pushing out opinions on, among other issues, genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
In fact, pressure from activists backed up by these food evangelists has led some dairy manufacturers to voluntarily remove GMO ingredients from their products.
But "voluntary is not voluntary when it is at gunpoint,” said Eatherton.
She added that it was important to remember, however, that these individuals are not activists, and they "can be converted."
“What we have found through our own work with USFRA and with the Biotechnology Council is that about seven out of 10 actually, when approached in a certain way can change their minds and will form a more neutral point of view.”
“They are not a hardcore, unreachable vocal minority at all," she said.
Speaking alongside Eatherton, Alison Van Eanennaam from the Department of Animal Science at the University of California addressed consumer concerns about the safety of GMOs.
“I know this is a very contentious issue but as a scientist I have to look at the data and I can answer that the products currently on the market are safe,” said Van Eanennaam.
“There are hundreds of scientific studies that have looked at this and we’ve been eating it for over 15 years in our food supply without a single substantiated case of ill health.”
“You may not believe me, but if you look at the major independent scientific organisations throughout the world… all come to the same conclusion – that it’s as safe as products produced using conventional breeding techniques," she said.