Dairy companies can build trust through transparency

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Transparency will likely translate to consumer trust, on survey found.
Transparency will likely translate to consumer trust, on survey found.

Related tags Consumer protection

If dairy manufacturers want to build trust with consumers, improving transparency will go a long way, according to the Center for Food Integrity.

The not-for-profit organization recently released its 2015 Consumer Trust Research​. Charlie Arnot, CEO, told DairyReporter that meat, dairy and eggs are the three areas of food where consumers have the greatest level of concern.

He believes it is “extremely important”​ for dairy companies to increase their level of transparency, especially considering the relationship between transparency and trust.

“If dairy processors want consumers to trust their products, it’s essential​,” he said. “We know from research that an increase in transparency is a great way to make that happen.”

Trust through humane treatment

CFI’s report gave statements for respondents to agree or disagree with, and approximately two-thirds of people strongly agreed that “If farm animals are treated decently and humanely, I have no problem consuming meat, milk and eggs.”

However, there is a definite trust issue, as only 28% believed that US meat came from a humanely treated animal. More than half of people agreed that they would strongly support a law that ensures humane treatment of farm animals.

This movement toward humane treatment has gone on for some time, Arnot said, as the size and scale of today’s farm, as well as undercover video from within these farms, have raised questions with consumers.

“An overwhelming majority of Americans are comfortable with consuming [food from animals treated humanely], but only a quarter of Americans believe that is happening,”​ Arnot said.

This is an area companies can address, as Arnot said transparency in practices can be a reflection of who the business is and what it does. This is a “foundation for building trust​” with consumers, he said, and can be done by adding information on the website, online videos, information on packaging and being ready to answer customers’ questions anywhere, anytime.

“With communication technology today, the working assumption people have now is ‘I will have access to whatever information is relevant to me when I want to have access to that information,’”​ Arnot said. “That creates both an opportunity and a challenge. Companies that respond to that challenge well will see increased consumer trust.”

No ‘silver bullet’ for transparency

There’s no “silver bullet​” for being transparent, Arnot said; instead, there must be a combination of things done to ensure consumers can find information when they need it.

Focus groups showed consumers may have eight or 10 browser windows open searching for information on food, said Arnot. They then aggregate that information to form their opinions.

“It requires us to be available and present in lots of different places, hopefully with consistent messages and themes,”​ he said.

There are now more companies sharing information and finding more interest in transparency, he said. One example he gave, which Arnot referred to as the “gold standard”​ for dairy transparency is Fair Oaks Farms, where people can see what happens with operations on an ongoing basis. However, Arnot said not every company will do this. It will be about finding unique ways to give consumers more information and tell the company’s story.

“We are seeing companies that use a lot of dairy increase transparency,”​ he said. The CFI measured 76 different attributes of transparency for its report, so there are plenty of ways to become more open to consumer scrutiny, he added.

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