Food industry scandals like the horse meat crisis have meant consumers are much more wary of having the wool pulled over their eyes, Emma Gubisch, Leatherhead’s strategic insight manager, told Food Navigator.
As well as this consumers have become more astute about on-pack claims like ‘natural’ and ‘chocolate flavoured’, meaning claims must be communicated candidly.
Proactive, not reactive
Gubisch said lower availability of certain commodities has meant that manufacturers are under growing pressure to ensure a sustainable supply chain.
She said that the media frenzy that ensued after the horse meat scandal also spurred manufacturers to start looking at their supply chains holistically to avoid future reproach.
“They need to be a lot hotter on understanding where the ingredients come from, not only so they can sell the good news stories around sustainability but also so that they can prevent things like horsegate from happening again.”
She said this was a case of being proactive rather than reactive. “They don’t want to be caught out on the back foot, basically, they want to be the ones to be looking at their supply chain, understanding it and if they spot something they can sort it out before it even gets to the point of being in the media.”
Securing supply chains
She said this was not something that would happen overnight as it involved complicated audits of supply chains within supply chains in order to go further and further back to the origin of each ingredient. “Obviously it depends on the manufacturer but they haven’t always got a full handle on the complexity of their supply chain.”
Gubisch said there had previously been a focus on particular commodities like palm oil, cocoa, tea and coffee, but the industry is moving towards a more holistic approach whereby – in an ideal world – all ingredients are sustainable.
However, while consumers appear to be making greater demands on brands, Gubisch said there remained a discrepancy in who would pick up the slack in pricing. She said consumers would not be willing to pay more for these sustainably sourced products, instead expecting this to be a standard part of production with additional costs to be absorbed by the manufacturers.
“I think consumers are getting to the point where they expect that to be just part of the package and they expect companies to be behaving in a certain way. So it’s not something which companies can ignore but at the same time they’re unlikely to be able to put a premium on their price for it unless they’re a particular brand that is perhaps already doing that in some way.”
“Some brands are perhaps trying to see if they can own the sustainability area, but personally I think in the long run sustainability only works in this kind of pre-competitive environment where everyone is trying to deal with this,” she added.
Communicating claims that count
Gubisch also said in 2014 manufacturers should look to build trust by considering the claims made on products and the messages those claims give consumers.
“I think sometimes messages on-pack can say something different from what manufacturers anticipate. If it says ‘new chocolatey flavour’, that doesn't necessarily mean to the consumer: ‘Oh, that’s chocolate in there’. They might think this it’s some kind of synthetic chocolate,” she said.
She said that consumers are getting wise to ubiquitous claims like ‘natural’ or misleading communication like a low fat product which may be high in sugar.
“It’s really about understanding what your messages are and ensuring that they’re not contradicting each other.” She suggested that this ties into an environment of hypersensitivity and that regulatory and marketing teams must work together in order to regain consumers' confidence.