Authenticity and Food

August 26, 2014

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Last month, the UK government’s horsegate tsar, Professor Chris Elliott launched the Institute of Food Safety Integrity and Protection (IFSIP), calling on industry, regulators and governments to come together and work even harder to ensure the food supply system is safe, wholesome and authentic.

His use of ‘authentic’ in this context is revealing. It demonstrates an ambition for IFSIP to address not just the safety of food, but a more expansive appraisal of its fundamental qualities and characteristics.

Authenticity was the term also chosen by FleishmanHillard in 2013 when it commissioned innovative new research to determine expert consumer expectations of the world’s most popular brands across five different markets.

As part of this process, FleishmanHillard identified nine ‘drivers’ – the factors that shape our perceptions and beliefs about an organization or a product – divided between three categories: management behaviors, customer benefits and society outcomes.

Nine Drivers image

The results showed above all that authenticity is not based on a single characteristic, but a carefully interwoven series of judgments – and that true authenticity is achieved when customer experience of all these factors matches or exceeds their expectations.

This has implications for businesses in every aspect of their communications. Where in the past, issues were addressed in targeted isolation – consistent performance to shareholders, environment to activists and price to customers – in today’s interconnected world consumers expect companies to perform across the board.

The food supply chain faces a similar challenge – and now more acutely than ever. Thanks to horsegate, customer experience now falls well short of expectations in all of these areas – management behaviors (transparent contracts, fraud), customer benefits (contamination, safety) and society outcomes (animal welfare, fair pricing).

Professor Elliott response to this is to organize IFSIP’s workload around five themes- including sustainability, nutrition and integrity as well as safety and hygiene.

This holistic approach coupled with his focus on genuine cross-industry collaboration and integrated communication will be an important step towards restoring trust in the supply chain, and with his report due imminently, an interesting illustration of his approach to achieving authenticity.