The relationship between consumers and their food is no longer ‘from field to fork,’ says the former VP of innovation for Loblaws.
“It’s actually from fork to field,” said Paul Uys, who spoke at the Conference on Food Innovation in late May.
“Consumers are increasingly driving the food supply chain. It’s all about connecting with consumers, their lifestyles, and values.”
And right now, consumers value transparency in food labelling. In its list of Top 10 food trends to expect in 2015, market research company Innova Market Insights put labelling at the top of the list.
“Consumers, retailers, industry, and regulation drive greater transparency in food labelling right now,” said Innova market analyst Joanna Clifton, who also spoke at the conference.
“Clear label claims are tracked on nearly 25 per cent of food and beverage products globally, with manufacturers increasingly highlighting the naturalness and origin of their products.”
In recent years, consumers have been “scrutinizing” labels and shifting their shopping habits towards foods that have more transparent “clean label claims” — such as no artificial ingredients, additives, or hard-to-pronounce ingredients.
And nowhere is that more evident than in the meteoric rise in GMO-free labelling.
“GMO free is the fastest-growing new trend, with a compound annual growth rate of 49 per cent,” said Clifton.
“Several large companies in the U.S. and other countries have announced no-GMO commitments, which may translate into a more global trend.”
Almost half of consumers surveyed by Innova said buying GMO-free food is very important to them, she said. That points to a greater trend toward consumers wanting to know how their food is produced.
“Clear and transparent labelling will be key to upholding and regaining the confidence of today’s consumers in a food industry that’s become overly complex in its supply chains and ingredient sourcing,” said Clifton.
And while scientific consensus is that GMOs are safe, consumers aren’t buying it just yet, said Uys.
“Science versus ideology is going to continue to happen,” he said. “As strong as our belief in science is, there are times when it’s just going to be a tough sell.”
Even so, agriculture needs to “get ahead of those issues” and keep advocating for facts in the face of pseudo-science.
“We increasingly hear that Gwyneth Paltrow and Dr. Oz and the Food Babe need to be held accountable, and retailers can’t do that — they don’t have the right reputation,” said Uys.
“We need to rely on fully qualified scientists to hold those types of people accountable. We need non-biased, reputable scientists to stand up for the facts.”