Edelman Trust Barometer 2016: Food in Focus

Whether it’s tortillas, tofu or tempeh, there’s no doubt that food is an emotive issue. Food underpins traditions, fires passions (and taste buds) and sparks no small debate, especially in a region as diverse as Asia. As Asia rapidly becomes the new seat of global economic power, western crisps sit alongside traditional kueh on supermarket shelves and local fast food brands rapidly become forces to reckon with.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer sought to capture a snapshot of the state of trust in Asia’s food industry amidst its rapid evolution. Called the most valuable commodity in business, trust forms the core foundation of successful companies. It matters for product sales. It matters for cultivating strong culture, for retaining and attracting new employees, and, in an age of technology and social media, where a seemingly innocuous online review can spark a furore, it matters for your brand and reputation.

The numbers speak for themselves. 48 per cent of consumers refused to buy products and services of companies that they distrust, 42 per cent of them criticised companies, and 25 per cent of them shared negative opinions. By contrast, 68 per cent of consumers chose to buy products and services of companies they trust and 59 per cent of them recommended them to a friend or colleague. Additionally, 41 per cent shared positive opinions online.

In short, the payoff for trust-building is long-term business sustainability and success – for companies and their brands.

The State of Trust in F&B

On the whole, the food and beverage sector enjoys high levels of trust, with a 63-per cent average trust score compared to 53 per cent for global business. Trust in the food industry today is second only to the vaunted technology sector (with its Googles and Elon Musks), having moved up a spot from the year before.

However, a deeper dive reveals a less rosy picture. Despite the global increase in trust, key Asian markets such as Japan, India and Indonesia have seen marked downturns in trust levels. These may be attributed to high profile food safety scandals in China (rotting frozen meat) and the issue of slavery in the Thai seafood industry.

Across global sub-sectors, supermarkets (67 per cent), farms and fisheries (68 per cent) enjoy the highest trust levels, followed closely by food manufacturers (60 per cent) and agribusiness (64 per cent). Fast food fared the lowest, at 49 per cent. While supermarkets’ high trust scores cannot be discounted, they do benefit from a certain degree of detachment from the manufacturing or production side of things. Rather, consumers judge supermarkets by a different set of trust parameters – such as variety, reasonable prices and convenience – all of which are typically achieved to a satisfactory level.

However, farms and fisheries - which rank just as highly on the trust scales - are starting to challenge supermarkets with new direct-to-consumer online offerings that deliver greater variety, higher quality (or at least the perception of it) and lower prices to consumers’ doorsteps. Many also engage with consumers on a more personal level to build strong trust ties and relationships, something that many supermarkets do not often do.

Perhaps the most important trust finding this year is the opening of a clear trust gap between the informed public1 and the general population2. These gaps average 6 per cent globally and reach highs of 7-11 per cent in key Asian markets such as India, Malaysia, Australia and China, with a close link to income inequality. Large trust gaps are a consistent fixture across food industry sectors as well, with trust among the general population lagging significantly behind the informed public.

This is important because of the inversion of influence sparked by the digital age. Today, people from the masses, and not informed publics, drive the agenda for governments, civil society and, of course, businesses. Companies that are seen as trustworthy by the people are given the mandate to lead in key issues such as sugar, obesity, nutrition labelling, marketing to children/developing populations and also the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Recipe for Success: Steps to Build Trust

Swing trusters (i.e. weak or neutral trusters) make up 65 per cent of all trusters and present the biggest opportunity for food companies to build their reputations among the general population.

What are consumers looking for? 45 per cent of consumers said that contributing to the greater good was a key reason their trust in business had increased. By contrast, failure to do good was the biggest reason for distrust in companies. In other words, purpose matters. 80 per cent believe that companies should take actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the communities in which they operate.

As companies build purpose, CEOs must be seen to lead and engage in discussions that go beyond their businesses. In this transformative food and beverage environment, CEOs are expected to be personally visible in discussions about societal issues. While 70 per cent of the general population believes that CEOs should be talking about financial results, an even greater number (80 per cent) wants to hear what CEOs have to say about societal issues.

Finally, here in Asia, the key institutions of government, NGOs and media still command very high levels of trust, a stark contrast to the rest of the world. As such, companies have an opportunity to share in this trust capital by working in close collaboration and aligning themselves with these institutions’ goals.

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Informed Public: Ages 25-64, college educated, in top 25% of household income per age group in each country, report significant media consumption and engagement in business news.
General Population: Ages 18+, has spent at least 5 years in 25+ markets, 1,150 respondents per country.

About Edelman Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa

Edelman is a leading global communications marketing firm that partners with many of the world’s largest and emerging businesses and organizations, helping them evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations. Edelman operates in 13 countries across Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa (APACMEA) and has affiliates in more than 40 cities. Edelman was named The Holmes Report’s 2012 Asia-Pacific, 2013 Middle East, 2014 Asia-Pacific Digital and 2015 Korean Consultancy of the Year; Campaign’s 2012 Greater China PR, 2013 Indonesia Digital, 2013 and 2015 South Asia PR, 2014 Australia/New Zealand PR and 2015 Japan/Korea PR Agency of the Year; and Asia-Pacific Excellence Award’s 2015 Agency of the Year. Visit http://www.edelman.com for more information.

Rachel Ho is Senior Manager, Food & Consumer, and Isaac Tan is Senior Executive, Nutrition & Healthcare, at Edelman Singapore.