Almost half of consumers who regularly buy food for their households don’t trust the food industry to do the right thing, and nearly one-fourth actively distrust it, according to research presented by FoodThink from Signal Theory, Kansas City, Mo.

However, the food industry has made progress in building trust, and there are opportunities to keep that momentum, as outlined in the white paper “Creating Trust in an Era of Skepticism.”

Slightly more than half (52%) of consumers say they trust the overall food industry to do the right thing, and less than half of consumers say they trust seven of 10 food categories.

The new research gauges the trustworthiness of food companies and institutions, various grocery categories and sources of food information. It uses the data to identify areas of opportunity and suggests ways for food marketers to build trust. Topics include factors that build or erode trust and consumer trends that drive trust issues.

“To build trust and resulting customer loyalty, food marketers need to understand consumer perceptions of food producers, brands and information sources, and how to improve those perceptions,” says Erika Chance, brand strategy director. “The good news is consumers’ growing hunger for information about the food they eat presents opportunities to build trust.”

Purpose, authenticity, competency and transparency build trust

To determine useful building blocks of trust, researchers analyzed attributes that make brands trustworthy and patterns among these attributes. Purpose, authenticity, competency and transparency (PACT) emerged as the foundational elements for building trust.

“We statistically identified four primary constructs consumers use to determine a brand’s trustworthiness,” says Kelcey Curtis, associate data insights director. “Among those four constructs, we gained critical insights into what consumers find important when choosing whether or not to trust a brand.”

Consumer trust begins with competency in delivering products and services that meet customer expectations, the study found. Brands with a clearly articulated purpose beyond profits are more trusted by consumers, and brands that authentically support that purpose in thought, word and deed establish integrity and consumer connections that run deeper than those based solely on transactions. Finally, transparency is a powerful tool in moving a brand from functional trust in its products to emotional trust that the brand truly has its customers’ best interests at heart.

The latest study is built on proprietary research conducted in 2018, including responses from more than 2,000 U.S. consumers of census-representative demographic backgrounds.