Consumers are influenced by people around them – their friends, the people with whom they get advice like doctors or educated friends, people they consider experts and those with whom they have shared values.
“If we’re going to build a sustainable balance system for agriculture, we need to be ethically grounded, economically viable and scientifically verified,” said Terry Fleck, executive director of the Center for Food Integrity (CFI).
The goal of the CFI research was to better understand what consumers believe when they talk about transparency. Subsequently, it identified seven elements related to transparency: motivation, disclosure, stakeholder participation, relevance, clarity, accuracy and credibility.
At first blush, these elements might seem too closely related to separate but that isn’t the case.
“Motivation is only one of the Seven Elements, but it’s a dominant one,” Fleck said. “The prevalent consumer perception that big companies are motivated more by profit than public interest must be overcome before consumers are willing to consider the other six. Companies and organizations must share information that is accurate, easily understood and relevant to consumers. No cherry-picking. Both positive and negative information must be presented. Perhaps less obvious to some is the importance of an open dialogue and engaging consumers. The importance of consumer engagement will only increase as personalized digital communication becomes the dominant way consumers connect.”
The report notes, “Consumers want to know if food companies are listening, acknowledging their questions and feedback, and explaining how and why they make decisions. A commitment to engaging quickly and consistently is necessary to show that your motivations are aligned with consumers and that you are being transparent.”
The same is true of agricultural producers. Consumers perceive that farmers are part of “big ag,” and if that’s the impression, it’s critically important to be as transparent as possible.
Fleck provided a brief overview of the seven factors that enter into transparency.
Motivation: Is the company acting in a manner than is consistent with its interests?
Disclosure: Consumers want to see that companies are publicly sharing all information, both positive and negative.
Stakeholder Participation: Consumers want a way to engage those interested in your operation’s activities or impact. They want to know entities are acknowledging the questions in a personal way.
Relevance: Ag businesses must share all information stakeholders deem relevant. Consumers (and stakeholders) want to know how it impacts them personally and directly.
Clarity: Consumers want to know if you can share information about the food you’re providing for their families in an easily understood and easily obtained way.
Accuracy: Is the information you’re providing truthful, objective, reliable and complete? Stakeholders want the full picture to be accurate.
Credibility : Producers must share positive and negative information that supports informed stakeholder decision-making and have a history of operating with integrity.
Think about each of these factors and how they relate to your operation. Are you doing these things, and can you explain your actions to consumers? Do you actively engage with consumers to share your production practices?
While producer organizations do an excellent job of explaining livestock production on a broad scale, consumers want to hear from individual farmers, and that doesn’t mean just a selected few.