Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive, IGD, spoke at the NFU Conference on the theme of “rebuilding confidence in food”. Watch the speech in the video below, or read a transcript underneath.
Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive, IGD, speaking at the NFU Conference on 27 February 2013
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We should all be passionate about consumers and earning their trust is paramount.
Without this, we don’t have a role.
Of course alongside our day job, we’re all consumers too.
And we all know how it feels to be let down.
That’s how millions of people feel about their food right now ... let down by the whole system.
That might sound unfair but it’s the reality.
We all get judged by the lowest common denominator.
Farmers and growers have worked so hard for so long to raise food standards.
So you’ll have been dismayed by the past few weeks.
A great philosopher once said “regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly possess.”
For all of us working in food, that jewel has been tarnished.
But all is not lost and our reputation can be repaired.
I’ll go even further ... this could present a great opportunity.
As any good business would say, and you will know, if you deal with a complaint in the right way, you can win a loyal customer for life.
So that should be our objective now.
Serve our consumers better than ever before, exceed their expectations, strengthen their feelings of loyalty.
The whole chain will need to work on this together - it’s not a job for farming alone - but you will play a vital part, and you can emerge all the stronger.
I’m going to talk about the damage to consumer trust, what it means for farming and how we can rebuild confidence together - turning a difficulty into an opportunity.
We know that trust can only ever be built gradually and yet it can be lost in an instant.
It’s closely linked with other words like ‘expectation’, ‘guarantee’, ‘dependence’, ‘reliability’, ‘assurance’, and ‘integrity’ - all ways to describe the bedrock of any good business.
It also underpins a healthy relationship between any parties working together and my hope is that recent events can also be a springboard to strengthen trust right through the food chain.
The biggest food testing programme ever untaken, anywhere in the world, is now underway.
So far, it’s revealed only a handful of affected items - a tiny proportion of the 25,000 food products sold in an average large supermarket.
But even a handful is definitely too many.
It’s been a shock that’s shaken everyone’s confidence.
IGD has a long heritage of consumer and shopper research.
And through our ShopperVista service, we listen to 12,000 shoppers each year.
We’ve been tracking their trust in food for a long time.
Normally, the trust of British shoppers has been high for food safety, quality, consistency and authenticity.
But from the middle of January this began to drop and by two weeks later, it had fallen to the lowest level we’ve ever seen.
Last weekend, it began to pick up but there’s a long way to go and trust is still fragile.
The good news is there’s no lack of confidence in British farmers.
We’ve just repeated a question from four years ago.
This was to find the most trusted professions and from a list of 14, farming remains in third place - just behind healthcare and pharmaceutical.
But the bad news is that confidence has been dented in all food and you can’t be detached from that.
The greatest hit has been to trust in processed beef products, followed by meat sourced internationally and any food with a large number of ingredients.
But nothing escapes unscathed.
We’ve seen some dramatic swings in shopper demand.
Sales of frozen burgers were badly dented, not least because many were cleared from the shelves.
On the other hand, sales have been up for fresh beef, lamb, pork and fish.
Local butchers have enjoyed a surge - and farm shops - and no surprise, sales of quorn were up by 10% in January.
But at some stage the market will settle down.
Much more important will be the lasting impact on the image of British food.
The signs are encouraging.
Even before this year, people were becoming more interested in the origin of their food.
78% of shoppers say it’s important whether or not their food comes from Britain.
That’s up from 55% saying this six years ago.
Almost eight in ten shoppers agree that “British farmers deserve the full support of the public”.
More than eight in ten shoppers believe Britain should be more self-sufficient in food, with a similar number saying your customers ought to focus more on selling British food.
Food companies pick this message up from their research too and so “sourced from Britain” is becoming more prominent in their marketing.
That’s not to deny the benefits of trade.
Just as British farmers want to share in the growth of the big emerging countries, shoppers still want a choice of the best food from around the world.
And their loyalty to British food in theory doesn’t always translate into practice when they’re in a hurry in store.
So British farmers will always have to stay competitive on quality and price.
But you do have a strong hand and you’ll have to play it skilfully.
In particular, you’ll need to avoid several more traps ahead as we journey towards total transparency.
Last month’s events are just one window on a much bigger picture.
Trust in all forms of authority has been falling.
We asked shoppers to name any industry they trust to do the right thing - and only 48% could think of one!
That’s down from 60% just four years ago.
So everyone is wrestling with their reputation and with food so essential, we’ll always be at the sharp end.
Joseph Hall, a 17TH century bishop, of all people, put it very well.
He said “a reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.”
The eyes remain upon us and the media is hungry for more scandals.
Consumers want answers to some searching questions.
Is there anything else in their food that shouldn’t be there?
Does food really come from where the label claims?
Does all food sold under an assurance scheme really apply the standards?
And are companies on top of everything in their supply chains, including animal welfare, working conditions and the environment?
DNA and isotope testing have changed the rules of the game.
The first is a forensic technique, able to detect adulteration at tiny trace levels.
The other can pinpoint a product’s precise origin.
Everyone’s stepping up their testing now, including some in the media.
So we’re under unprecedented scrutiny - even more than we’re used to already!
That means you can’t dismiss horsemeat as “somebody else’s problem”.
The ripples reach out to affect everyone who produces food.
I am confident that the food chain will stand up well to all this scrutiny.
In Britain, we routinely have some of the most rigorous testing and auditing systems in the world.
The Irish and UK authorities were the first in Europe to identify the problem and the response was decisive.
People regularly travel to the UK to study and learn from us, and yet, life under the spotlight will be uncomfortable at times and we will need to raise our bar even higher.
So consumer confidence has been damaged and people need our reassurance.
Consumers have a high opinion of British farmers, giving you a chance to build their loyalty further.
And everyone working in food is under even closer scrutiny.
So what do we need to do next?
We can’t make our final conclusions until all the evidence is collected.
We need to know exactly how it all happened before we can decide what to do differently to prevent it happening again.
No stone should be left unturned.
But already, we can set out the principles we need to apply to rebuild consumer confidence.
First and foremost, we must put consumer interests first - as we always should!
It’s not just the right thing to do - it’s also a good investment.
Retailers and manufacturers are obsessive about it and the ones who do it best are invariably the winners.
Some farmers are good at this too, helping them to build some fast growing brands.
It means going the extra mile to listen to what consumers have to say, taking their comments on board without being defensive, responding to their needs and concerns and then informing everyone about what you’ve done.
Now’s the time to step this up.
So if you only remember one of my principles, please make it this one - put consumers at the heart of everything you do.
But what about transparency?
I say let’s welcome it.
Although I did mention some of the traps earlier, I still believe transparency is one of British farming’s greatest potential assets.
Whenever a shopper connects with the farmer who produced their food, it makes that product different and special.
It can set you apart from those working to lower standards, making food into less of a commodity.
Real transparency means laying yourself completely open.
The photos of farmers we often see today in our stores are a start - but only a start.
With more shoppers taking their smartphones into shops, retailers investing in wi-fi and more screens in store that can show video, transparency is really coming to life.
Here are some examples from other countries.
In Austria, shoppers can trace every Aldi organic product back to the farm through their phones.
In the US, over 400 food brands and retailers use the HarvestMark system.
Shoppers can scan a code on the label to see the grower, the farming method, the animal feed regime and so on.
And in Canada, you can trace the fish you buy from a store or a restaurant back to the boat, time and place where it was caught.
That scheme is managed by the Canadian fishing industry because they know it encourages shoppers to buy local.
So I’d be knocking down the doors of your customers to volunteer working on this together.
It’s an ideal way to rebuild confidence and provide evidence of a chain that’s under full control.
Principle number three is to make the biggest splash possible, with every good news story you have.
Facts and figures are good but stories are even better, and farming has so many great stories to tell.
Something extraordinary happened to farming a few years ago, when TV executives suddenly woke up and realised the subject was sexy!
And Farmville - playing at being a farmer - was at one point the world’s most popular game on Facebook.
And there’s still no let up in this appetite!
45% of shoppers tell us they’d like to hear more from farmers with only 4% saying they hear too much.
So there’s an open invitation.
The NFU has taken a lead through national campaigns, and these are even better when they’re reinforced at local level.
LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday is a powerful way to showcase some of the best farms in the country.
Local papers, radio, websites, Twitter and Facebook are other good ways to explain the care you take on your farm.
The wall of trust is built one brick at a time and every time someone has a positive experience with a British farmer, another brick is added to that wall.
Now’s the time to take advantage of the high regard for British farmers.
But if you do speak in public about the events of the past few weeks, be careful about over-claiming.
We don’t yet have all the evidence.
If you pin all the problems on others, then if an issue is found later at any British farm, it would be a terrible own goal.
I think the NFU has got the balance just about right.
My final principle is to push for more food chain integration.
By that I mean farmers in secure and lasting arrangements with their customers, involving plenty of dialogue and sharing information.
This gives more certainty, in an uncertain world, for consumers, retailers and farmers.
At IGD, we always put the case for teamwork through the chain.
But never has the need been more obvious and never has the door been wider open.
McDonald’s will be very glad today that it decided a long time ago to set up dedicated supply groups.
Many others have taken - or are now taking - the same course.
Teamwork can also help to address another big challenge.
Some people say that we’ll all have to pay a lot more for our food in future.
If they’re right, that would bring real hardship to a vast number of people at the worst possible time.
Everyone deserves to have safe and affordable food.
So if we’re serious about putting consumers first, then we need to try our hardest to minimise any extra costs.
The best way to do this is to work together - look again at the chain, from end to end and find new ways to deliver for consumers as efficiently as possible.
Almost a decade ago, IGD led 33 total chain projects, doing exactly this.
We found, as a rule of thumb, that 20% of the costs in an average product chain added no value for consumers.
The costs were there because of quality problems, practices that caused food waste, a lack of information sharing, distribution problems, and I could go on.
Everyone has made some big strides since then.
But by working together, through integrated chains, I’m convinced there’s still scope to provide more of what consumers want, in a transparent way, efficiently and profitably for everyone involved.
Throughout my entire career, I’ve felt proud and privileged to work in this great industry - the world’s most important industry.
I’ve seen many tremendous advances in food safety, quality, variety and value.
I’ve met thousands of dedicated people, working incredibly hard to deliver those improvements.
I’ve travelled the world and I know firsthand that British food standards are truly exceptional.
So I feel outraged that the actions of a few have tarnished the jewel, the reputation, of so many good people.
But something positive will come from this.
The rogues will be rooted out and the people of integrity will reap their reward.
Together, we can and we will rebuild consumer confidence.
If we set our sights high - if we put consumers first - if we welcome transparency, make our voice heard and work as a team, then we can lift confidence to an all time high.
The future belongs to good farmers and growers and good people in good companies working to high standards to provide great food for all our consumers.
I’m confident we can emerge from this in stronger shape than ever before.
Work together and seize the moment.
Notes to editors:
- IGD is an education and research charity
- We act as a bridge between shoppers and the industry to help food companies deliver what the public wants
- We regularly bring industry leaders from the whole UK food chain together to discuss issues that the public cares about and our research informs that debate
For more information:
Contact the IGD communications team by email on firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jon Neal, head of communications, IGD T: +44 (0)1923 851916 M: +44 (0)7770 640448
- Lorna Catling, senior communications officer, IGD T: +44(0) 1923 851990 M: +44(0) 7808 733920
- Meeta Darji, senior communications officer, IGD T: +44 (0)1923 851935 M: +44 (0) 7590 230455
- Krishan Rama, senior communications officer, IGD T: +44 (0)1923 851924 M: +44 (0)7889 010262
Watch a video of IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch speaking to ITV News following a meeting with Defra and the food industry on Saturday 9 February 2013 (link opens in new window).