The food and beverage industry has seen dramatic changes over the past few years. Due to the emergence of new research, product recalls, and growing health concerns nationwide, the days when consumers would purchase any product on the shelf without question are gone. Consumers are more empowered and informed than ever before, and as a result, they are demanding transparency from the companies from which they purchase products for their family. In fact, a majority of shoppers expect more information than what is found on a standard nutrition facts or ingredient panel, and often times, even on the company website. Consumers today are proactively seeking out information about the products they consume every single day.
Because of this, there is an increased pressure on companies to be transparent when it comes to the communication of facts, ingredients, brand story, origins, traceability and social or environmental impact of the product. There are a number of factors driving this change. Major contributing factors include an increased awareness of sustainability concerns, animal welfare, GMOs, pesticide use, health concerns, workers’ well being, and more.
So how can companies, both big and small, create more transparency behind their labels and products? Here are a few ways:
- Clear callouts
This may seem obvious, but having clear callouts, benefits, and claims on your packaging, website or collateral materials is critical to being transparent. Many companies tend to emphasize trendy buzzwords or “puffery”, industry jargon, and lengthy claims that often confuse and mislead the consumer. Whether you are making or purchasing products, take the time to sit down and really think about what you want to say and what is most important. Highlight the claims that are significant to your product, help differentiate you from the competition, resonate with your target consumers, and communicate authenticity. Having too many or confusing callouts will clutter your packaging and create distrust. Simple is better.
Certifications are an excellent way to build trust and be transparent instantly because they serve as proof or validation that what you say about your product is true. To acquire a certification, your product is tested and held to a national standard that is consistent across the category. Some widely recognizable certifications include USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Kosher, Certified Vegan, Fair Trade Certified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Paleo and many more. Obtaining certifications is time consuming and costly, and the consumer recognizes this. Having these seals and icons on your packaging is a straightforward way to communicate what is in your product and your commitment to quality and health of your consumers.
- Website and social media
A company’s digital presence is crucial in fostering trust and showing transparency. Your website is likely the first place consumers will go to for more information and to learn about the brand. Invest in developing your website. You should have tabs detailing your ingredients, harvesting or production process, brand story, social or environmental responsibility, and a designated area for media inquiries. Consumers expect to see all of that information displayed in a clean, organized, and attractive layout. I’m not saying the site has to be expansive and expensive, but it needs to be clear and professional.
Social media also acts as a great customer service tool. More and more consumers today are turning to social media and social proof to give reviews, voice complaints, and ask for help or direction from brands. Companies need to be active, responsive and vocal on their platforms. If you respond to your consumers too slowly – or not at all – you will be viewed as distrusting and unengaged. Pay attention to what your customers are saying and interact with them to build a relationship. If you do not have the bandwidth to do this internally, look for trusted partners to help.
- Tours and videos
A final way to embrace a transparent business model is to give a tour of your office or facility. Consumers will be able to see firsthand what it is that you do, and how you operate from day to day. By providing an open window into your business, you are showing that there is nothing to hide. You can also give a tour on video for consumers in other areas around the country or world. This would make a great addition to your website, and is an affordable and effective way to breed trust and build a relationship with those who interact with your brand. Some companies even use media to illustrate their commitment to the traceability of ingredients down to the source. There are companies that will show you the cows in the fields eating grass on live feed. That’s cool!
What other ways could you showcase brand transparency and authenticity? What certifications, claims or practices do you look for in other companies? How do you feel about the transparency movement in food and beverage? Who is doing this well and acts as a great role model? Share your thoughts below!