Collaboration, transparency key to building consumer trust

Agricultural/food companies and growers must work together to build consumer trust through greater transparency. That was a key takeaway from a diverse panel of experts who spoke at a Dow AgroSciences event in Indianapolis recently.

Joe Kelsay, government affairs manager for Dow AgroSciences and sixth-generation farmer, moderated the discussion.

Panelists included:

  • Kelly Johnston, Campbell Soup Company vice president of government affairs
  • Pat Duncanson, Minnesota grower
  • Tim Richter, Iowa grower
  • Matt Rekeweg, industry relations and food chain leader, Dow AgroSciences
Agricultural and food industry leaders discuss consumers’ concerns about food safety at a Dow AgroSciences media event held June 30 in Indianapolis.

Agricultural and food industry leaders discuss consumers’ concerns about food safety at a Dow AgroSciences media event held June 30 in Indianapolis.

The experts brought different perspectives, but found common ground in three key areas:

1, Sustainability must evolve at every level of food production.

“Agriculture is front and center for solutions to feed the world, and sustainability is not new for any of us,” Kelsay says. “Sustainability is the story of agriculture, year after year, generation after generation. It is the way of life we know.”

However, perspectives of sustainability differ, Kelly Johnston of Campbell’s pointed out. “It’s not just about what we think or how we define sustainability, but how our customers define it,” he says.

“Whatever business you are in, you have to remain on the cutting edge,” Rekeweg says. “The minute you say you’ve got it done and right, someone will prove you wrong. Our customers will always want to know what you’ve done to be better recently.”

Iowa grower Tim Richter agreed. “We see sustainability as a journey,” he says. “We are always evaluating our goals. The science changes, and you discover the things you thought were settled aren’t. For example, the yields we see today were unfathomable 10 years ago.”

2. The ag community should work to build bridges from farm to consumer.

“While enhanced sustainability may begin at the farm level, the voice of the grower is often absent from food industry conversations,” Kelsay says. “We need to build bridges between the different sectors of our industry.”

Rekeweg agreed. “We have to recognize that most consumers are far away from the farm, physically and in life experiences,” Rekeweg says. “We need to bridge between consumers and our grower customers.”

Johnston took that one step further, saying, “We need to explain our position. For the first time in Campbell’s years, a dialogue is happening with grower groups. We need to get out of our silos and cross-engage. I want to connect the growing community with our consumers.”

“Once person-to-person contact is made, consumers often will understand the grower’s point of view,” Richter says. “We need to be proud of how we farm and the improvements we’ve made as commodity producers.”

3. Transparency is key to achieving trust in technology.

The panelists said embracing transparency is critical to creating greater consumer trust and confidence in the products grown by farmers.

“We need to explain why new technologies are coming on board,” Rekeweg says. “There are reasons why technologies are being used, and it is our responsibility to explain why the technology is important and how it helps. We want to build trust in that process.”

Trust and communications tools are necessary for the agricultural and food industries, the panelists said.

“Even in our sector there is confusion, and we need more transparency,” Duncanson says. “As an industry, we need to make an investment in communication.”

“Consumers are interested in learning about farms and food ingredients,” Johnston says. “Ultimately, consumers still care about price and convenience, but transparency gets to the core of what consumers want from food producers.”

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