Magazine article Risk Management

Seven Steps to Build Consumer Trust

Magazine article Risk Management

Seven Steps to Build Consumer Trust

Article excerpt

In this hyper-connected era, news of a food safety incident travels at the speed of Twitter. Such incidents can be devastating to a company that is unprepared.

Preventing such crises begins with realizing that transparency is no longer optional. Any person with a smartphone is an on-the-scene videographer, and social media networks provide instant access to thousands of friends and followers. Food companies must provide information to customers about a company's supply chain and its commitment to food safety, food integrity and maintaining the quality and safety of products. It is a matter of making sure the appropriate systems are in place to back up those claims.

No system is perfect, but companies must be able to demonstrate that they have the best systems in place so that, if an incident occurs, the public can logically assume it was an exception to the rule. Being transparent, engaging consumers and backing it up with the appropriate systems all help assure consumers that food safety is the top priority and that a company can guarantee the integrity of its supply chain.

If an incident occurs, the key is to engage with consumers early. Accept responsibility. Apologize. Help people understand what you are doing to rectify the situation.

Maple Leaf Foods is a great example of a company that responded well, and survived the crisis as a result. In 2008, a listeria outbreak from their deli meat was a devastating incident that resulted in deaths and illnesses. Maple Leaf openly accepted responsibility, apologized publicly and redoubled efforts to assure food safety. The company suffered $13 million in losses the year of the recall, but rebounded with a $22 million profit the following year. Stock shares took only three months to return to pre-recall levels and, while the loss of life can never be reduced to dollars and cents, the improved stock price is an indicator of how well the company recovered from an incident that could devastate or destroy an ill-prepared organization.

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Center for Food Integrity (CFI) research quantifies specific social outrage factors and defines the attributes of trust-building transparency. CFI studies show that two factors are critical to igniting outrage: whether the issue is a concern to the public, and whether it has an impact on family, friends or groups perceived as vulnerable. This may trigger social outrage that can result in more regulation, legislation, litigation or market action designed to force an organization to perform to expectations.

If the issue involves larger food companies, outrage can be fueled by the pervasive notion that big is bad. …

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