Food and beverage industry consultant, David Henkes of Technomic, has prepared a research report for Emerson Climate Technologies outlining the ways in which consumer demands will drive change in the food industry by examining key trends through 2020. Here is what he has to say about transparency.

According to Linda Eatherton, of global food and nutrition practice Ketchum, “When questions don’t appear to be answered or clearly addressed, the assumption is we are hiding something.” Henkes reports that consumers want transparency, which comes in many facets: products, prices, performance and planet.

In regards to food industry products, consumers want to know where they originate from and whether food suppliers are following sustainability practices. They also want to know the growing and processing methods that are used and what ingredients and additives are in the food they consume.

Consumers are also becoming shrewder about the cost of food. What is the true ‘net’ cost and unbundled cost? Transparency in pricing will change operators’ behavior. Today pricing is inefficient. If there are 10 operators, 10 prices exist. Tomorrow, the advent of alternate communications channels, primarily through the internet, will introduce transparency.

How does the food industry fare from an operations point of view in terms of how their employees are treated? Forward thinking and successful companies know that their employees are the backbone of their operations, hence the move toward fair living wages and health benefits. Consumers will patronize companies that practice fair trade and have a diverse work force. However, they will not be so loyal to companies that provide outrageous executive compensation packages.

Saving and protecting our planet also plays an important role among today’s consumers. They are watching companies closely to ensure their operation has a positive impact on the environment, that they care about animal welfare, and that they implement positive conservation policies and performance.

Menus and food operations are under greater scrutiny than ever before. Forward thinking companies such as McDonald’s addressed the situation head on a few years ago with their ad campaign that featured consumers asking tough questions. One question being, “Do you use pink slime in your meat?” McDonald’s answered the questions head on, showing a distinct interest in being transparent.

Transparency is more important than ever as shrewd consumers are better informed and much more interested in their own well-being than ever before.


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