Since the Covid-19 outbreak began, food retailers and farmers have gone above and beyond to ensure that consumers had uninterrupted access to food – and that hard work has been recognised, as new research shows growing public trust of the food industry.
“Faced with what could have been a damaging period for the food industry, the way that different companies and parts of the system have managed to continue to deliver food to the shelves and peoples plates has done a lot to engender trust,” explains Professor Richard Bennett from the University of Reading.
Farm shops proved to be a key part of this winning recipe, and Jenny Rose, manager of the Farm Retail Association said independent retailers have seen a rise in new customers this year thanks to the speed at which they adapted their offering in the face of the pandemic.
“2020 has clearly demonstrated the importance of the UK’s local food supply chain,” says Jenny. “Farmers work tirelessly to bring food from field to fork, and farm shops in turn are able to guarantee their customers have access to fresh, quality, local produce.
“A recent survey undertaken by the NFU has revealed that shopping locally is the top permanent change customers plan to make after the pandemic is over – and with Brexit around the corner, we’re certain that consumer appreciation of local produce will only continue to grow,” she continued.
Indeed, the research by rural insurer NFU Mutual found that 40% of people plan to buy more from farm shops and local producers this Christmas. One in four shoppers said they had already used farm shops or bought from local producers more in 2020.
Ian Maddever, senior agent at NFU Mutual Liskeard and St Austell said there are “encouraging signs” that these changes are here to stay. “In fact, a recent survey of our customers has revealed that shopping locally is the top permanent change they plan to make after the pandemic is over,” he continued.
Farmers took the top spot for consumer trust, benefitting from their hard work and commitment to high standards of quality and ethics.
NFU president Minette Batters said it was fantastic to see that the British public had recognised the efforts of growers and producers this year. “With the ongoing uncertainty around Covid-19 and the potential for a no-deal Brexit looming large, I, along with my fellow farmers, remain extremely thankful for this huge show of support and the increasing value people place on quality British food. It demonstrates growing public thinking; understanding and supporting our food supply chain has never been more important.
“As farmers we must continue to show the public how much the UK farming sector delivers for the nation, the economy and the environment. Their support is going to be invaluable in the weeks, months and years ahead,” she continued.
As part of the project, EIT Food will facilitate forums where consumers can work with the food industry on projects to improve trust further. Researchers have found that transparency is the key to consumer trust, but this requires openness, honesty and a willingness to engage with consumers.
“Consumers are telling us that key aspects of that trust come from an ethical approach,” Richard says. “Animal welfare, reducing food waste, fairness in pricing and honest labelling were seen as the key improvements that different parts of the sector should be focusing on. This shows that we as shoppers are wanting to see better and fairer standards of our food.
By continuing to improve transparency, farmers and food retailers can ensure that consumer trust only continues to grow in 2021 and beyond."