From Field to Fork: Communicating Food Traceability
March 21, 2023
This content originally appeared in O’Dwyer’s March 2023 food and beverage issue.
François de la Rochefoucauld, a French writer in the 1600s, once said, "To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art." It appears today’s consumers have taken this message to heart.
According to MarketsandMarkets, the food traceability market is expected to reach $26.1 billion by 2025. This space has grown thanks to consumer demand for information. Over the past several decades, food safety, the origin of food, and eating a healthy diet have been top of mind for consumers. As more studies are released about climate change and its effects on the planet, consumers are also interested in how their food was processed, how it traveled through the supply chain, and if it was sustainably produced. So, what does this mean in the food and beverage space? Brands that are transparent beyond the nutrition label will earn more consumer trust and loyalty.
Transparency Builds Trust
According to the latest Transparency in an Evolving Omnichannel World report produced by the Food Industry Association and NielsenIQ, shoppers surveyed expect disclosure of manufacturing practices, ingredient sourcing, and company sustainability practices, among other details. In fact, 64% of shoppers said they would switch from a brand they typically buy to one that provides more in-depth product information.
For communicators, this is an opportunity to help their brands shine. Loyal customers can be gained by addressing their desire for more information and explaining that traceability runs deeper than FDA compliance.
Share Beyond the Nutritional Label
While traceability efforts are a government mandate, they are also a vital business practice. While food and beverage manufacturers track their goods to keep the lights on, they realize it’s also imperative to share the full details of the process with consumers. This practice helps reinforce how the product has been produced safely and with the welfare of the environment in mind. As consumers demand more transparency about the food and beverage manufacturing process, communicators have an opportunity to create brand-reinforcing narratives. Here are a few examples:
Consumers can track a bag of Lay’s potato chips. Using Lay’s website, a consumer can punch in a code located on the bag to see where the potatoes were grown and processed. Additionally, Frito-Lay has other standards their potato growers must follow and record. Everything is traceable from the seed planted to crop protection products used when the potatoes were harvested and where they were stored prior to processing. This transparency offers consumers a glimpse into the process and what it takes to get the chips in their hands. Frito-Lay communicated this level of detail through a media relations blitz to help ensure consumers were aware they could digest this information.
You can even find out if your parmesan cheese is authentic. The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, a trade union established in 1934, places a scannable food tag on wheels of parmesan cheese. Consumers can use the tag to verify they’re purchasing true parmesan vs. a product that claims to be parmesan cheese.
Veracruz Almonds responded to consumer demands for transparency using smart farming tools and technology. They place a QR code on the food label and consumers can scan it and visit a website that explains the path of their almonds.
What does this all mean? As consumers continue to receive more detail about their food, the story from farm gate to dinner plate will become even more important.
It’s about telling a story beyond taste and ingredients
Communicating about food traceability and offering transparency on the full manufacturing process allows food and beverage brands to connect with consumers on another level. Communicators need to think beyond the label and weave more robust storytelling into their marketing and communications plans.
Possible stories revolve around the brand’s commitments and the people involved throughout the manufacturing process. The priority for this type of content strategy is to produce messages that consistently and effectively reinforce the same behaviors with consumers. It’s about getting the right message in front of the right person at the right time. Don’t worry about covering all the brand’s stories at once. The most important message to deliver is the brand’s desire to offer the consumer the best, most responsibly sourced and produced product.
Reinforce the brand’s promise. There’s a story to tell about a brand’s commitment, whether it’s to food safety or sustainable production. It’s being transparent about the brand’s values. The best approach is to build the year-over-year message about the commitments vs. rattle off some one-off impressive statistics. The longevity reinforces the brand’s promise and commitment to its goals, which will help build trust and foster loyal consumers of the brand.
Show and tell. The origin of many food and beverage brands can be found in the field, so show the farms and tell their story. Explore topics from the grower’s point of view, from their years in the farming profession to water conservation to impacts on the surrounding community. As communicators follow the product through processing, tout improvements in the manufacturing process, such as reducing carbon emissions and the use of more sustainable packaging. Look for opportunities to bring a human face to the product’s journey to create a more personal connection with the brand. And, as obvious as it sounds, don’t forget to convey these stories in a compelling, interactive manner that reinforces the brand’s image and helps consumers connect to the brand.
Measure and improve. Landing pages, tracking codes, and social listening can help communicators determine if their stories are getting traction. It is also a good idea to conduct regular market research and focus groups to make sure messages satisfy what consumers want to learn about the product’s journey.
In summary, don’t think about traceability as simply fulfilling a requirement. It’s an opportunity to help consumers better understand and appreciate the process of getting their favorite food to them from field to fork – and to build brand loyalty along the way.