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EIT Food’s Trust Report for 2021 has revealed some interesting insights, with sustainability coming out as the number one motivating factor for consumer choices, and indie retailers being the most trusted place to achieve this.
The public overwhelmingly trusts farmers
In this report, farmers were the most trusted food actors across the board, with a staggering 74% of Brits revealing they trust farmers. In particular, small local farmers that use environmentally friendly production methods to grow food came out on top.
However, Anthony Davison, founder and managing director at BigBarn – the platform that brought the Local Food Map, a tool to get consumers shopping locally, to the UK market – believes that while conscientious shoppers are aware of the need to create new habits, powerful external factors are at play that hamper their progress. “This may be a case of what people say is often not what they do, especially when price, convenience and the power of marketers are factored in.”
“At BigBarn we believe that we need to build a more enlightened society that makes better food buying, health, and lifestyle, choices. A society that realises that supermarkets are not the cheapest place to buy food and that they do not need 98% of what is on the shelves of the ‘one-stop shop’.
“To make this happen we need the most effective influencers, children, to discover the ‘better way’ at school and why we have restarted our 2012 Crop for the Shop schools project. An initiative where kids discover food through growing, cooking and even selling some of their crops.”
Indie retail came out on top
Overall, retailers came second in terms of food ‘actors’, with 59% of UK respondents expressing trust in this group. However, the survey revealed that when it came to the type of retailer in question, the public trusted smaller, local shops more than chains.
Saskia Nuijten, director of communication and public engagement at EIT Food explained this further: “Our survey revealed that consumers generally trust retailers to bring safe foods to the market. However, there are differences in levels of trust for different types of retailers, with participants trusting smaller, local shops more than chains.
“This comes back to a theme that runs throughout the Trust Report findings: consumers want to see more transparency from actors across the food chain. In smaller independent shops, where staff tend to be more informed about the origins of the products they sell, shoppers are more likely to learn where food products come from. This level of transparency is often less available from large retail chains, where fewer staff on the shop floor are likely to have this knowledge.”
James Woodward, farm officer at Sustain added: “This insight is useful to show that citizens want to support smaller, local food enterprises, and that they recognise their environmental benefits. We know that UK farmers want to be supplying these same markets and that’s where they would like the future to go, but that middle part – the supply chain – is yet to respond.
“With supermarkets holding such tight control and power over the UK’s food supply chain, you can see why things are slow to change. That’s why we need the UK Government to use levelling up money to invest in local food systems, as well as bring forward new statutory codes of practice that create a fairer playing field in the food retail market.”
A focus on sustainability
The report also revealed that while 76% of Europeans say they are motivated to live a sustainable life, just half (51%) take sustainability into account when making food choices. This indicates that there is a gap between consumers wanting to make choices that protect the planet, and actually make impactful lifestyle changes – known as the ‘attitude-behaviour gap’.
Moreover, three-quarters of Europeans say they are concerned about the global environment, feel that it is a moral obligation to use environmentally friendly products, and are concerned that people do not care enough for the environment.
Sophie Kirk, senior business development manager at the Soil Association said: “We welcome this new insight which provides further evidence that consumers are prioritising sustainable, healthy and planet-friendly options in their lives. This reflects our own research behind the Organic Market Report 2022 which has shown that demand for organic has increased by 23% over the last two years during the pandemic – a trend that is showing no sign of letting up.
“This gives some clear learnings for producers and retailers, large and small, around the willingness of many consumers to change their diets and shopping behaviours. And corresponding opportunities to develop more robust British supply chains to support local farmers, and to provide more and better information around the provenance, health and welfare impacts of products to drive awareness and help inform choices.”
Laura Chan, Soil Association health and sustainability policy officer added: “Consumer confidence and trust is built over a long period of time and this is most likely based on the fact that the UK has some of the highest standards globally. There is real concern however that we risk undermining confidence in food integrity through poor trade deals and run further risk to food security if the government doesn’t come through with support for a transition to agroecology.
“With regards to confidence in new products UK consumers are supportive of it generally but innovation in food production has to be done right and not at the expense of climate and nature - which is a key priority for UK consumers. The Agroecotech Report explores the most appropriate areas of innovation in the food and farming sector and the central role that farmer-led research should play in this. If not done right it could significantly undermine trust and support in the UK food system.”