It’s never been a more exciting, opportune or challenging time to be in the food and beverage business. As we look across the landscape of issues facing individuals, communities and society at large—health equity, sustainability, climate, waste, hunger and access—food is a constant. In some cases, it’s the root of the problem, and almost always a necessary part of the solution.
Edelman’s newly released 2022 Trust Barometer data for the food and beverage sector shows that trust is highest among businesses and non-governmental organizations and continues to remain low for societal leaders, government and media. And while there’s a high level of trust in employers and businesses overall, there’s considerable drop-off when we get to the food and beverage products we make, how we make them and how they get to our table: from concerns about climate change and sustainability to fears that automation will take food industry jobs and frustration around the incongruous clash of hunger and waste.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '22 Food & Beverage PR Magazine
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Without a doubt, there’s work to be done. Overall trust in the food and beverage sector remains below pre-pandemic highs, with three of the world’s largest food exporters—U.S., Germany and France—scoring among the lowest on trust, and the U.S. down six points since last year. We’re seeing particular skepticism regarding new forms of tech in the food system—cell-cultured meats or gene editing, personalized medicine or gene mapping—underpinned by macro fears around privacy and safety.
Across sectors, the lack of trust in government runs deep. Not only do consumers not trust the government’s ability to solve societal problems, the government is also seen as a dividing force in society (48 percent). Not far behind is media, which is also seen as a dividing force (46 percent). Since 2012, trust is down across traditional media, social media and search engines, and 76 percent of respondents cited concern about false information or fake news being used as a weapon.
On the flip side, consumers are looking to businesses and NGOs to act as competent and effective drivers of positive change. “Local” has been a virtue/quality signifier in food and beverage for decades. We see a similar correlation between familiarity and trust in individuals and leaders. While trust in CEOs overall is up slightly, trust in “my CEO” rose three points, to 66 percent. Even higher was trust in “my co-workers,” at 74 percent, only slightly behind scientists at 75 percent. Sixty-one percent of food & beverage workers chose a place to work based on beliefs and values.
Our research show an expectation for businesses to play a broader societal role and for CEOs to personally lead from the front on change. More than eight in ten believe CEOs should be personally visible when discussing public policy with external stakeholders or work their company has done to benefit society. And six in 10 employees expect their company’s CEO to speak publicly about highly topical and sometimes controversial issues they care about—an expectation that has increased significantly since we asked this question three years ago.
Food makers and their leadership are well-positioned to allay the fears of their employees and consumers in a world they don’t trust. We see dozens of examples, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, making it their business to improve equity, access and the health of people and the planet. As companies and their leaders pursue operational changes to improve sustainability, drive technology innovation to improve nutrition, access and mitigate environmental impact, and move from commitments to real change on the issues that truly matter, we’re confident that trust is within reach.
Heidi Hovland is Global Food & Beverage Chair at Edelman.