HOW TRANSPARENCY CAN SAFEGUARD YOUR BUSINESS & THE LOCAL FOOD MOVEMENT

FarmersBlackboardFood labeling and trademarks promoted customer trust to a large extent but green and healthwashing, along with token CSR [corporate social responsibility] marketing campaigns of food producers and retailers are increasingly being exposed. In a digital world that provides consumers with an abundance of information via a simple Google search, transparency and truth are all that more important in our dysfunctional food system.

Suppliers of food who are part of the real food movement, which is mostly through a short supply chain, often have the opportunity to interact and meet consumers and can tell the story of the food they produce from farm to table. This should be regarded as a valuable opportunity to engage with consumers to inform and educate them. Suppliers have the opportunity to help change the mindset of consumers to support local producers.

 

WHO ARE THESE SOUTH AFRICAN CONSUMERS?

First let us talk about these consumers. There are three types of consumers in South Africa – unconscious which unfortunately makes up the majority of consumers in South Africa, semi-conscious and the informed conscious consumer. The conscious consumer voice is at least 15 years behind Europe but it is progressively growing.

“The concerns of the South African consumer with regard to food safety, animal welfare and health consciousness are expected to increase over time (Loureiro & Umberger, 2007:497).

The semi-conscious consumers’ objective is to primarily seek healthy food produced in a natural way.

Possibly they-

  • feel good about supporting local producers
  • enjoy the experience of sourcing their food; they have the time and the money
  • will know about the health and environment benefits of organically produced food
  • are seeking specialty items, artisan produce
  • want to buy chemical free, fresher and better quality produce
  • want to interact with the producers and be able to ask questions
  • want to be part of the growing “locavore” community
  • want to have a real food experience

but many of them probably shop at Woolies during the week

Your conscious consumer will possibly-

  • seek out organic produce to support the growth of organic farmers in South Africa, they are soil and environment ambassadors
  • ask about the organic certification of a product
  • ask if the produce contains GMO, particularly if there are gluten-free claims and if maize or soya is used they will ask who the supplier is and possibly even the mill that was used
  • ask about pesticide and herbicide use on non organic produce
  • ask if a sugar substitute is derived from a GM process
  • ask about the farming practices that the raw material was sourced from, if it is livestock product, they will probably ask for the name of the farm and if that farm is open to visitors
  • ask about higher animal welfare practices
  • ask about free range and pasture raised claims

         transparency is very important to them because they are more aware of the greenwashing of greenwashing

TRANSPARENCY AND CONSUMER EDUCATION

Ethically produced is a popular catch phrase and producers feel they must keep up with the growing consumer demand for ethically produced food. Unfortunately “ethically produced” has been over-used, abused and become meaningless. It really is only the misinformed consumer that still believes the ethically produced claims without any transparency offered.

Transparency by food suppliers through providing information on sourcing of products and in particular livestock products, will become increasingly important to conscious consumers who want to know which farms were the source and methods of production. This is transparency that large retailers and even some smaller ones are not able or willing to offer.

The truth is that consumers can only buy with peace of mind if products are local and producers are completely transparent with methods of production, allowing them to make an informed choice.

 

SOME QUESTIONS FOOD SUPPLIERS CAN ASK THEMSELVES

What information are you willing to share with consumers?
What are your fears about consumer education and why?
Are your organic products correctly labeled, do they bear the assessment or certification logo if you are organically certified?
Have you visited all the farms that you source produce from?
Do you provide truthful information about the way the food you sell is grown and raised.
What ingredients have needed to be added to improve flavour or maintain freshness?
What ingredients are most concerning to you about your product?

Like anything we don’t understand, transparency alleviates uncertainty and helps consumers make better decisions. What you don’t want as a food trader are confused consumers.

It is the responsibility of food suppliers to ensure authenticity of their products and transparency to allow consumers to make informed choices with their eyes wide open. It is also the responsibility of food suppliers to know everything about the farms or processes involved in the product they are selling so that they can confidently provide answers to any queries.

The needs of the customer form the basis for the existence of a supply chain. Knowledge of the different market segments and what constitutes customer value is the starting point of a successful business. (Thompson et al., 2005).

Traders can be faced with a dilemma though. Since South African consumers are largely misinformed or misled about how our food is produced, any new transparent information could be a surprise for them. This is why consumer education is critical as a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Consumers need to be made aware of pragmatic solutions in the short food chain and why certain compromises have been made.

 

TRACEABLE TRANSPARENCY

Soon one of the most important reasons that will drive South African consumers to short chain outlets such as local food stores and farmers’ markets will be that the produce is traceable to the farm or grower when compared to supermarket produce. When the chain is too long or there are too many people involved in the assurance process, such as in eco labels or labels of assurance then consumers will need to have faith in everyone and every part of that food chain. Too many people involved in a food chain often results in a broken down telephone approach to traceability and accountability is also often lacking.

The main objective for short chain suppliers should be to ensure consumer trust and confidence in not only your brand and produce but in the local and real food movement. Any misleading claims or lack of transparency undermines the entire movement.

Let’s focus more on building trusted relationships through transparency because it is easier to maintain trust and confidence in your product than to restore it.

It’s a Mindshift that’s required – food producers need to inform and educate consumers to be able to trust them with the truth.

 

WHY TRANSPARENCY IS VITAL

Nutrient dense soil, bees and healthy water are resources that are vital to our food supply but are under threat in South Africa due to conventional and harmful farming practices.

We need a commitment to transparency. If there is a lack of transparency then everyone is at risk, particularly farmers and the real food movement. We are increasingly losing our organic farmers and smallholder farmers. Organic milk supply cannot meet demand.

Let’s focus more on building trusted relationships through transparency because it is easier to maintain trust and confidence in your product than to restore it.

South African consumers must realize that we need to protect our farmers who grow food sustainably because they believe in safeguarding and improving soil health. Without nutrient dense soil we don’t have nutritious food.

Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy Humans

It is not only the impoverished in South Africa that are nutrient deficient but also wealthier households who are food secure but nutrient poor. Every South African citizen should have the right to nutritional food security and even the United Nations has stated that subsistence and family owned farms is the solution to the world’s food dilemma.

Brazil managed to reduce the number of people living in poverty by 20 million between 2003-9 through investing in small-scale farmers. (OXFAM)

Small scale farmers are our hope and our future.

 

Sonia Mountford

Sonia Mountford lived as an expat in the Middle East for a number of years and enjoyed travelling and exposure to third and first world cultures. Her interest in food security began while visiting in Sri Lanka after floods and discovering the politics around Food Aid. As a co-founder of Grass Consumer Action and the only full time member, she spent four years researching the dysfunctional food system in South Africa, investigating, questioning and exposing misleading claims. Although her interests range from food politics to toxins in our food, including harmful ingredients in processed foods and Big Food influence; she soon came to realize that the most important part of the food journey begins on farms. For that reason she spends much of her time visiting farms, learning and talking about constraints and concerns in production methods with farmers. Passionate about nutritional food security she believes higher animal welfare farming practices are not only necessary for ethical reasons but also for human health. She is an ambassador for SOIL, BEES and healthy WATER. Mountford started EATegrity (eategrity.co.za) “Helping You Find Integrity in the Food Chain” in 2015. Her aim is create greater consumer awareness about the food chain and to encourage transparency in the South African food industry.

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