Paths to food traceability: Consumer views of truth

Photo credit: Orange Silicon Valley/Jameson Buffmire

Food Traceability

Throughout the world’s food system, traceability has become a lightning rod for conversations and business activity in recent years. Drivers include consumer demand, new regulatory requirements, and increasing supply-chain efficiency, all of which play key roles easing and growing business operations.

We conducted more than 25 in-depth interviews over a three-month period during the late summer and fall of 2016, identifying and assessing a diverse array of perspectives.

As the food industry looks for solutions, it faces hurdles throughout the supply chain and across borders that it will have to face. We will get deeper into where those hurdles appear in later posts, but our first look heads to the store shelves and labels that often provide consumers with their primary portal for understanding from where their food originates.

Consumer Demand

Consumers sit at the center of the food system, and their expectations about food are changing. They want to know which ingredients are in the food products they purchase and from where those ingredients come. They increasingly weigh the impact to our health of the foods they consume, whether that means opting for less sugar and salt, replacing gluten-laden choices with gluten-free alternatives, or simply choosing whole grain and no-carbs items at the checkout counter.

Source: Deloitte Food Value Equation Survey 2015

The Problems With Expectations and Labels

Walking through the aisles of a typical American grocery store, shoppers must sort through anywhere from 15,000 to 60,000 products, which retailers refer to as stock keeping units (SKUs), according to the Food Marketing Institute. For perspective, the average number of SKUs in a U.S. grocery store in 1975 was just 8,948.

Source: Food Marketing Institute

In fact, only half of Americans understand the content of their food labels — and less than one-third believe them — according to a June 2016 consumer survey from Coast Packing Company and Ipsos Research.

Finding a Common Language

Social media and other online sources of information have further clouded consumers ability to make sense of what’s being communicated to them on labels. And in cases where legal definitions aren’t available, certainty can be difficult to find. There is reason to be optimistic, since online channels have enabled consumers to seek out deeper sets of perspectives and information than they might otherwise be able to find. Moreover, a vocal minority has been able to bring attention to sustainable sourcing issues and place pressure on brands to seek full visibility into their supply chains.

  1. Paths to Food Traceability: Knots in the Food Web
  2. Paths to Food Traceability: The Biggest Challenges for Brands
  3. Paths to Food Traceability: How Entrepreneurs Can Find Opportunities

Sustainable food systems

Food technology and innovation are reshaping our world. Here, we share analysis and research from our Sustainable Food Systems team. We evaluate agriculture, aquaculture, logistics, and food waste technologies to accelerate their adoption across the food system.

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Sustainable food systems

Food technology and innovation are reshaping our world. Here, we share analysis and research from our Sustainable Food Systems team. We evaluate agriculture, aquaculture, logistics, and food waste technologies to accelerate their adoption across the food system.