The results of a EIT Food-funded project, Increasing consumer trust and support for the food supply chain and for food companies, led by Professor Richard Bennett, reveals that the ability of the food industry to continue to stock shelves despite the global pandemic has led to improved trust.

Consumers are more trusting in the food industry because of the COVID-19 pandemic with farmers and retailers seeing the biggest rise, according to new research.

In the UK, food retailers including big supermarkets have seen improvements to levels of public trust. Participants said that the greater transparency about the way that the business is run, as well as fairness and increased quality of products, were crucially important to trust.

Professor Richard Bennett from the University of Reading leads the EIT Food-funded Grand Challenges project. Professor Bennett said:

“Faced with what could have been a damaging period for the food industry, the way that different companies and parts of the system have managed to continue to deliver food to the shelves and peoples plates has done a lot to engender trust.

“It’s not surprising to see that food retailers have also improved their levels of trust in 2020. As the global pandemic led to panic buying and stockpiling, retailers responded quickly and fairly to ensure that essential items were available as much as possible. We have also seen how restrictions have redefined what we consider key work which includes food retail which has further helped.

“The global pandemic has been a turbulent time for the food industry, but these results demonstrate that different businesses and individuals involved approach 2020 having gained more public trust than when we started.”

Helping consumers

As part of the project, consumers have been able to have their say on how the food industry should be improving to win public trust through the new project.

Using data on public trust in the food industry, the team behind the project have been meeting with different parts of the industry to engage in trust building work, and will be facilitating forums where consumers can work with the food industry on projects to improve trust further.

Researchers have met with food industry representatives who recognise that transparency is key to consumer trust and that this requires openness, honesty and a willingness to engage with consumers and other stakeholders.

Professor Bennett said:

“In particular, we see that farmers continue to enjoy the top step in the trust podium, benefitting from the continued image of being hard working independent producers who face a lot of risks and particularly in the UK.

“Consumers are telling us that key aspects of that trust come from an ethical approach. Animal welfare, reducing food waste, fairness in pricing and honest labelling were seen as the key improvements that different parts of the sector should be focusing on. This shows that we as shoppers are wanting to see better and fairer standards of our food.”