Can food firms overcome consumer scepticism around safety, traceability and marketing?

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

In a Mintel survey, 30% of Thai consumers said they'd taken photos of store items to research the details online. ©GettyImages
In a Mintel survey, 30% of Thai consumers said they'd taken photos of store items to research the details online. ©GettyImages
Food scandals, recalls and suspicions over sustainability are all contributing to growing distrust among consumers, but several innovative companies are showing how this scepticism can be overcome.

Speaking at market intelligence firm Mintel's Big Conversation in Singapore, the company's APAC trends manager Delon Wang said, "Consumers have grown sceptical of information. With easy access to the Internet, they do their own research, forming their own view on what is good and bad, and what works for them or doesn't."

Indeed, Mintel's 2017 Metro Consumer Survey found that 70% of Indonesian consumers think it is important to be able to see the food inside the packaging (such as through a plastic window), while 30% of Thai consumers said they had taken photos of items in stores so they could research the details online afterwards.

The survey also revealed that 48% of respondents aged 20 to 24 consider "honesty in advertising"​ a crucial factor, compared to a 41% average across all age groups.

Rush to reassurance

In response to this, companies across the region have taken steps to reassure customers that their products are safe to consume, sustainably sourced, and ethically made.

Using blockchain technology, Chinese insurance tech firm ZhongAn Online has developed a mobile app called Gogo Chicken, which employs facial recognition to check if the chickens users have purchased are free-range or organically farmed.

Other companies have collaborated to increase transparency across their food supply chains with blockchain technology — for instance, Walmart,, IBM and Tsinghua University have formed an alliance to work towards improving transparency and building consumer confidence.

Some firms have taken to direct marketing: McCafé's latest campaign in Hong Kong entailed allowing passers-by to brew and taste their own coffee, so it could use the feedback to help improve the quality of its coffee; the entire process was live-streamed on Facebook.

In addition, a growing number of mobile apps and wearable devices are helping consumers cut through claims, advertising, and social 'influencer' endorsements by providing raw data and AI technology without bias.

Fool-proof future?

Wang said technology would continue to play a major role in consumers' buying decisions in future, with the growing acceptance of tracking technology likely to lead to more integration in their lives, albeit to varying degrees.

"Stores that use facial recognition technology to detect human expressions and physical conditions (in order) to offer expert advice and recommendations may become the norm.

"Wearable devices can also communicate with users to offer recommendations on what would best suit their diet and where they can be purchased, even directly linking to e-commerce stores,"​ he added.

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