This week, the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity hosted the Public Trust Summit: Tackling Transparency – The Truth About Trust here in Calgary. Through research, resources, training and dialogue, the CCFI is focused on helping build consumer trust. WS Account Director Kristine Waddell attended the Summit and brought back her favourite insights:
You’d have to be living under a rock not to know – puzzling over millennials and how best to engage with them is a common pastime for any company who serves any part of the food production cycle. This year’s Public Trust Summit put this sometimes elusive, highly connected and coveted market segment literally in the spotlight, with a 6-person panel comprised of two male and four female millennials.
As I was listening to the panel and the speakers, I was struck by how it’s all too easy to get micro-focused on the “problems” this generation of consumers has brought to the table, especially when it comes to creating brand messages about food. But perhaps more than any generation before them, millennials are excited to connect with brands. That’s a major opportunity for everyone involved in food production. Here are my five main takeaways from the great speakers and panel at CCFI.
“In a world where nothing is hidden, we’d better have nothing to hide.” – Greg Page, CEO of Cargill. With a world of information at their fingertips, the millennial panel shared that they are more than willing to do the research when they have questions – and they definitely have questions. Transparency, though, means more to them than just being presented with the facts. They trust companies who are willing to have open, two-way conversations with them and they trust companies who are transparent in an accessible way – burying information 10 clicks deep on your website doesn’t inspire much trust.
Vance Crow, Director of Millennial Engagement at Monsanto, pointed out that the public doesn’t care what you have to say. By the time they get to your messaging, they already have questions, and they won’t listen to you if they sense you have an agenda, or if they feel like you haven’t listened to them. Active social listening can help you understand the questions your audience is asking, so you can answer them at the right time, with the right information.
When gathering information, many millennials will turn to opinion-based information – whether by crowdsourcing on their social media feeds or searching for blog posts on the subject. Because of how highly we value the groups we define ourselves as part of, these opinions are also highly valued. They’re seen as the truth. Crow says this can lead to facts feeling like personal attacks, no matter how accurate they are. For the panel, one counter to this catch-22 is collaboration. They want to connect with and trust farmers, and somewhat surprisingly, paid advocates, who are hired to tell a brand’s story.
Speaking of storytelling, Charlie Arnot, CEO of CFIUSA knows how to combat the “facts as attacks” problem: instead of making science the hero of the story, make the consumer the hero. By embracing consumer skepticism, you can find ways to shine a light on the societal benefits of a transparent, trustworthy food industry, and increase the value of the conversation.
The good news is, we’re not doing too bad of a job in increasing confidence in the food system. The CCFI’s 2017 research reports that 43% of consumers feel the food system is headed in the right direction, a significant increase from 2016. They’re also generally less concerned about issues like the rising cost of food, keeping healthy food affordable, food safety and so on. This tells me that the work we’ve been doing to shift perceptions of the food system is working, and can only improve from here.
To share your thoughts and dive into this conversation, connect with Kristine Waddell on LinkedIn.