Consumer trust is key for future success of NZ food industry

Tim Hunt, Rabobank
Tim Hunt.

Consumer trust has never been more valuable to the New Zealand food industry and is set to play a key role in its future success, a visiting international agricultural expert has told the horticulture sector. Yet winning and sustaining this trust has also never been more complex.

Speaking at the New Zealand Horticulture conference in Hamilton last week, the Sydney-based general manager for RaboResearch Australia and New Zealand Tim Hunt said consumer trust was becoming an increasingly precious commodity for New Zealand food producers.

“New Zealand’s emerging markets, like China and South East Asia, place a high value on food safety and the process of food preparation, while more mature wealthy markets are willing to pay for sustainability, animal welfare, fairness and attractive provenance,” he said.

“In both cases, the attributes customers are looking for are not self-evident at the point of purchase or when they consume the food. So in order to win their business and hopefully extract the premium, it is vital food producers win their trust.”

While Hunt said consumer trust has never been more valuable, he cautioned that earning and maintaining this trust is now more complex than ever.

“Trust in companies, the government and regulators is on the decline and the integrity of the food industry is under attack from media and documentary makers,” he said.

“We’re also seeing a shift to online food sales, which is changing the environment in which we are building consumer relations, and new technology creating the capacity of consumers to trace product through the supply chain.”

Hunt cited a recently-launched app which is being used in Australia to verify free-range egg labelling as an example of how organisations outside the food industry are utilising technology to influence consumer perceptions of food brands.

“Australian consumer advocacy group Choice haven’t been happy with the standards the government and industry set around free-range eggs so they’ve set up their own app to download on your phone, which you can use to scan cartoons of eggs labelled as free-range in the supermarket,” he said.

“Via augmented reality, the app generates a three-dimensional image on top of the egg cartoon with either incredibly densely-packed chickens, if Choice deem the eggs have not been produced in free-range conditions, or one happy dancing chicken, if Choice deem they have been. The app then gives you the ability to take of photo of the image and share this information with all your friends and followers via Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp.”

Building trust in NZ food

Hunt said for those industries able to build strong consumer trust, there were significant rewards and the New Zealand food industry was well placed to do so.

“It won’t be easy, but winning this trust starts by setting high standards of food production and supply chain management that aren’t too far out of whack from what local communities and customers expect,” he said.

“And it’s sustained by consistently meeting those standards time after time and year after year.”

Hunt told the conference it would also be essential for the New Zealand food sector to capitalise on evolving technology to highlight the strong provenance and health and welfare story that’s already in place.

“We’re going to see more and more technological developments which enable us to trace the standards of food in the supply chain,” he said.

“And it’s absolutely essential that New Zealand food producers are utilising this technology to tell the New Zealand food story and put the industry on the front foot, because if they don’t, the risk is that other outside groups step in and shape the story in this very valuable area.”

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