Although many companies are starting to make considerable investments in the sustainability of food products, their efforts may be lost on consumers. Instead, direct communication using digital solutions allows for instant sharing of trusted product information to engage consumers and aid purchasing decisions.
By Joy Laing, Director of Global Supply Chain Operations and Development
DNV’s latest ViewPoint survey on consumer trust in the food and beverage industry demonstrated that food safety was the primary issue on which consumers want more information and transparency. However, the trend is rapidly changing as we see key topics like health and sustainability now featuring in the top three concerns for consumers.
The survey’s results indicated that consumers tend to be most interested in issues impacting them directly as individuals. Beyond food safety, these topics relate to product content (65%) and the origin of products and ingredients (64%). Broader environmental and social challenges also scored highly in the survey results, despite their complex nature. Up until now, the communication of such issues has often been through corporate sustainability reports, corporate certification or in a dedicated section on a corporate website. The findings of this survey indicate that consumers see a tremendous value in verified product information and that they would leverage on-product QR codes to access this.
This is also where consumer expectations and upcoming regulation are increasingly coming together: European companies are now facing an ever more stringent regulatory environment. The upcoming EU Green Deal is preparing to introduce new legislation within the food and beverage sector, including:
- The revision of EU regulation on the provision of food information to consumers (aiming to require verified labelling information to help consumers make healthier and more sustainable food choices);
- The proposal for a legislative framework for sustainable food systems (aiming to create a variety of measures to push towards more sustainable practices); and
- The proposal for the adoption of deforestation regulation (aiming for verified deforestation-free products including certain food products sold on the EU common market).
These legislative frameworks all feature the need to provide unequivocal proof of where products originate from, and under what circumstances they were produced – all this in the form of a digital product passport (DPP). In other words, both legislation and consumers’ expectations move the focus from high-level corporate reporting to the product’s wider sustainability performance. This shift requires the implementation of robust yet cost-effective supply chain transparency programmes, including the incorporation of digital tools to monitor the flow of products and associated risks in the supply chain (environmental, social, threat of fraud etc.). The good news is that if the right DPP setup is chosen, it can cover both regulatory compliance AND the ability to directly communicate relevant and verified information to consumers – to build the needed trust and confidence.
A typical example for robust DPP implementation is the connection of product traceability information with adjacent, verified information such as carbon or social footprint leveraging, digital surveying, monitoring, and analytics. The result is a clear picture of risks based on geography and the ability to regularly monitor the human rights of workers in high-risk countries. A DPP can then also augment this with further (remote) monitoring to support initiatives to tackle the environmental impacts of supply chains.