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Food is under scrutiny these days. Contamination can have devastating effects, both for consumers and for companies, and technology allows unprecedented access to information and conversations about food safety and quality.

Each year, the Center for Food Integrity studies in-depth aspects of consumer trust. This year’s report focuses on expectations for food suppliers. More than farmers, retailers or restaurants, consumers hold manufacturers responsible for the quality and transparency of their food production. Additionally, the bigger you are, the smaller the chance that consumers will trust you.

Consumers want authentic engagement with their food, and they want it in very specific areasSo how do food companies build transparency and trust? Here are some best practices you can implement.

Provide access to information

Whether you provide it or not, consumers will find out what they want to know. Sullivan, Higdon & Sink, authors of regular food industry trust studies, offer four ways to give consumers more access to the information they crave and deserve.

  • Label for visibility and traceability
  • Offer public facilities tours (physical or virtual)
  • Make space on your website for honest dialogue
  • Let company leaders speak publicly about processes

Commit to privacy

The more transparent you can be about your use and protection of consumer data, the better trust you’ll be poised to build. Alex Alben in Seattle Business Magazine recommends these online best practices for collecting data and communicating with consumers.

  • Tell consumers what data you’re collecting and how you’ll use it
  • Don’t automatically share data with affiliates and vendors. Allow consumers to opt-in
  • Define your policies for data retention, and allow consumers access to the data they’ve shared
  • Have a company-wide data security plan that includes risk assessment, employee training, threat monitoring, and clear reporting on security attacks and breaches

Communicate your values

Charlie Arnot at the CFI urges for transparency in all your practices because “practices are a demonstration of a company’s values in action, and [CFI] research shows shared values are the foundation for building trust.”

Social media is one way to communicate your values. Millennial consumers, many of whom have lost faith in institutions and corporations, will still trust an authentic, socially engaged voice. In fact, they’ll trust a stranger on the internet more often than they trust people they know.

But trust isn’t built on social media alone. Make sure your processes hold up to investigation. Create a value for trust and transparency within your company culture. Insisting on transparency in your supply chains and processes can also improve safety, efficiency, and productivity.

Invest in technology

Bridging the trust gap with consumers depends in large part upon embracing technology. Raymund Chao, senior partner at PwC China, encourages bold steps in adopting “both emerging technologies and innovative solutions for food safety and security.”

Intelligent supply chain mapping and tracing applications can have manifold benefits, including increased consumer trust. But analyzing the data produced by these technologies can impact your productivity, execution, and optimization.

GE’s suite of manufacturing applications is one example of an integrated technology system designed to help manufacturers improve processes and safety, with the added benefit of increased transparency capabilities.

Honor the consumer

Your willingness to increase transparency shows how much you value consumers. Arnot points out that transparency is no longer an option for food manufacturers. “Consumers want authentic transparency,” CFI research shows. “They want all the details–the good, the bad, and the ugly–so they can decide for themselves.”

It’s not enough anymore simply to say your product is quality-assured. Consumers want to see the hows and the whys behind what you do. You can’t always expect to do everything perfectly, but showing consumers what they want to see communicates your trust in them, which can, in turn, says Arnot, “transform a relationship that is tarnished by suspicion.”

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