The future of food safety depends on transparency
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Food scares continue to happen — like the current recall of Romaine lettuce in the U.S. that has gotten 84 people sick — and consumers are setting higher expectations for safety, sustainability and quality.
The Future Food-Tech conference, held in March, showed that the industry is deeply focused on a safe and sustainable supply chain. A key task for achieving this is to increase the transparency of the entire system.
Consumers want detailed information to make informed decisions on what they eat. They want to know more about the food product before it goes on the shelf. They want to know more than the nutritional values printed on the label. The use of new and emerging technology can play a big role in this as the consumer can be assured of the product's social, environmental and intrinsic health.
One of the few packaged food companies that offers such transparency is Hershey Co. They share ingredient and sourcing information online via an interactive map that tracks the ingredients. This engages and involves consumers in the process and regains their trust.
Emerging tools like blockchain and gene-editing were also discussed at the forum.
Blockchain is expected to revolutionize product transparency by recording the history of transactions from the farmer right down to the retailer. It also has the ability to rapidly trace the source of foodborne illness, reducing response time from weeks to matter of minutes. This is a potential lifesaver that the entire food ecosystem needs.
UK-based Provenance seeks to use blockchain technology to connect the farmer, retailer and producer on the same platform. By doing so, they will also increase customer loyalty. Other organizations using blockchain include the World Wildlife Fund, which tracks sustainable tuna fishing in Fiji.
Gene-editing is an emerging technology that makes precise changes in the genetic material of plants and animals used in food production. This is done to improve food safety, reduce waste, help the environment and make optimal use of resources.
There is a lot of speculation about gene-editing, and it is often confused with genetic modification. As Craig Wilson, vice president of quality assurance and food safety at Costco Wholesale put it, businesses need to be upfront and transparent about it. Clear communication will dispel doubts and improve consumer choice.
The various entities along the food supply chain are known to operate in silos. The lack of transparency leads to inefficiencies and undermines consumer trust for a brand.
Despite progress made in this area, we still have a long way to go. Food supply chains are growing more complex, yet issues are still resolved at a snail's pace. That is why it was refreshing to read the report released by one of the UK's most progressive companies, Cranswick. Called "Radical Transparency: The rise of disruptive consumerism," the report sheds light on the fragile food system and the risks businesses face. Nothing short of radical transparency from farm to fork can help in this regard.
Consumers demand full traceability and insist on high ethical standards. Cranswick, too, stresses that blockchain can be the key differentiator. This peer-to-peer platform can ensure food safety, quality, integrity and provenance. Food companies can now disclose a higher level of data tracing the origin and authenticity of the food product.
Future shoppers can use their smartphones to access real-time information on traceability issues. This will open a whole new world of openness and efficiency of food.
Campbell Soup's transparency policy is a veritable example in this regard. Like Hershey, they too have applied an innovative approach to transparency and sustainability. Their "What's In My Food" database has become popular with consumers. They can go through the cataloged ingredients in each product anytime they wish.
This level of transparency is critical for all food businesses today if they wish for long-term success. Campbell has been named as 2018's most reputable company in the Reputation Institute's annual USRepTrak 100. For businesses that are still dwelling on transparency programs, these statistics might help. A Label Insight survey shows that 94 percent feel loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency.
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