Who do customers trust?
Believing messages all comes down to whom consumers trust. “There’s misinformation and various agendas out there, so I think it comes down to who you trust,” says grocery industry veteran Doug Sumpter. “Academia can provide credibility, but unfortunately they are not good at communicating that. So, marketing has to come in and play that part. But at retail, when something occurs, it’s common for more misinformation to be disseminated as employees who don’t know the facts tell customers whatever they believe the facts to be. We need to think about how would you efficiently want to disseminate information in the store? If I’m a retailer or consumer and I see something in the press, I will go to who I trust. I think the industry has an obligation to quickly communicate the facts with sound bites -- not some long story -- so that it can transition from a cashier to a customer quickly and accurately. But trust has to be developed.”
Retail, food and distribution industry consultant John Seltzer agrees that it comes down to trust and transparency. “One of the things I always enjoyed about Whole Foods is that if you ask someone a question about the product, if they can’t answer they will tell you they can’t answer and they will go get the manager. Then they insist on having someone contact you. It’s much more labor-intensive, but these issues are very complicated and it takes good store-level training. As people have more specific questions, make sure they get referred and then followed up.”
A 2004 survey by the Animal Agriculture Alliance and the National Corn Growers Association tracked those whom the public trusts when it comes to messages about farm animal well-being. The study revealed farm animal veterinarians, U.S. Department of Agriculture representatives, Food and Drug Administration representatives and farmers and ranchers among the most believable. On the opposite side, among the lowest ranked for credibility on farm animal treatment were well-known
“The results of the survey are very positive and don’t surprise anyone who appreciates the contributions that animal agriculture makes to our quality of life,’’ said Bruce Andrews, Animal Agriculture Alliance president, in a 2004 press release about the survey. “Our polls show that the public has consistently over the years trusted and valued American farmers and ranchers and the important job they do so well. More than 40% of respondents over the age of 25 considered farmers and ranchers to be one of their two most favorably viewed groups.”