With all the negative food and consumer product headlines over the past few years, one trend with far-reaching implications hasn’t garnered much attention — at least not yet: The growing decline in consumer trust. According to Gallup, when a relationship suffers a breach of trust, it can influence every interaction in the future — and even how people view past interactions. 

But from an industry perspective, you’re in luck!  Joe Dickson, Co-Founder and Head of Standards at Merryfield, a rewards and loyalty app for natural and organic brands that meet high standards, and former Global Director of Quality Standards for Whole Foods Market recently shared his insights in our recent Radicle Perspectives webinar.  Here are his tips on creating and maintaining trust and loyalty to win with consumers and retailers. 

Tip 1: Information travels fast

Information moves quickly, especially with social media, and the stakes have never been higher. If you make a label claim that is disingenuous and misleading, the risks are gigantic. It’s important to really look at your labels, products, and  formulations through the lens of a skeptical consumer and make sure to honor their good intentions.

Tip 2: Leverage certifications and limit liability

Retailers are raising the bar and requiring GMP certification, which is good. We are also seeing some retailers kick it up a notch and prefer GFSI benchmarked food safety certifications. Legal teams at retailers are now looking at claims and actually asking brands for substantiation. They are increasingly concerned about their legal risk and loss of consumer trust. This is a real win for consumers. It’s also good for brands with high quality effective products to be able to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Tip 3: Watch Out for “Cleanwashing”

As Dickson describes this trend in the webinar,Cleanwashing is a variant of greenwashing where certain call-outs will be made on the front of the pack in an effort to appeal to natural-minded consumers, but the commitment is only half-way as the ingredients on the back of pack tell a different story. This is an example of taking advantage and exploitation of good consumer intentions. Retailers are the liaison between consumers and brands and have a responsibility to curate their shelves, decide what should be made available and not pay lip service to trends.” Dickson adds, “Retailers need to commit to truly understanding claims and telling consumers the whole story.” 

Tip 4: Innovative Brands and Retailers Can Serve as a Proxy for Regulators

According to Dickson, “At the cutting edge of consumer trust, the brands and retailers that are really trying to innovate and build consumer trust sometimes have to act and think as regulators. Retailers and brands can voluntarily act in response to government lapses in oversight on behalf of consumers to level the playing field and create consistency. Retailers, innovative brands, and consumers can be the arbiters of truth and quality,” but Dickson provides a caveat, “ … assuming they have already established a pattern and have earned a reputation of trust.”  

Tip 5: Building trust is a long and critical process.

“Think clearly about how to establish your expertise as a brand,” said Dickson. “How you show a clear mission, empathy, and how what you are doing is for a deeper reason and purpose. Brands need to show vulnerability acknowledging that the state of science and research is evolving and that what we believed deeply 10 years ago may no longer be true. Acknowledging that we are not all-knowing and perfect and accept that we don’t have all the answers and exude that vulnerability in the messaging will benefit all consumers.” 

According to Dickson, there are many reasons for the decline in consumer trust. Ultimately, “… consumers are increasingly aware of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) limited enforcement action across food, supplements, and cosmetics and the resulting headlines. Social media is transforming the speed in which information travels and the depth of that information and its reach. We have a class of trusted influencers and interpreters of science information on every platform that have made an art of getting the information out to consumers -both the good and bad.” This means that as an industry, we need to view compliance with federal laws as table stakes, the absolute minimum compliance threshold, and do a better job self-regulating. 

When it comes to trust, remember that consumer perception is your brand’s reality. Lose that trust and you lose it all.

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