- In its latest U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report, the Food Marketing Institute underscored the growing desire consumers have for transparency on issues like food safety, health and wellness and product discovery, according to a news release.
- This means offering not just information, but “forthright, trustworthy and easy to find” information that “conveys some sense of vulnerability and openness,” said FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin during a presentation at FMI’s professional development conference in Chicago.
- FMI noted that alternative formats that make transparency a priority, including natural and organic retailers, online-only operators, and club stores are seeing increasing consumer loyalty. However, 8% of consumers still claim they have no primary store.
FMI’s report points to an interesting shift in what shoppers value from the products they buy and the retailers where they shop. Instead of seeing only beneficial product claims, store programs, and other commonly advertised initiatives, consumers also want to see the not-so-flattering side of food retailing. They want the truth, and as FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin explained, “[consumers] can handle the truth.”
This desire for transparency didn’t happen suddenly. It built up over the years as labels like fair trade and organic, manufacturers like Stonyfield Farm and retailers like Whole Foods drew back the curtain on our modern food system. When shoppers saw what was behind all the canned, shrink-wrapped and packaged products they regularly buy, many had a hard time viewing their shopping experience the same way again.
This isn’t to imply that all transparency is negative — far from it. Digging into the food system means learning about the farmers who grow stores’ produce and the grocers who stock their products. It could mean education about sourcing trips that supermarket buyers take to secure the best products for their customers. It could also mean letting shoppers know how stores are trying to avoid allergen cross-contamination in their bakery department.
The point is, transparency doesn’t mean only playing up the positive or the negative aspects of food retailing. It means retailers should be a little more forthright about the how and the why behind sourcing and stocking their products. One good example: Many retailers will put up signs in their produce department explaining why a particular item is out of stock, or why certain selections have a waxy coating on them. Shoppers don’t have to know this information, but when they see it they typically appreciate the forthrightness. It addresses a concern, and it builds trust.
On the downside, this level of openness isn’t something most grocers, particularly traditional ones, are used to. But on the plus side, this is all information that grocers know intimately and have on hand. All they’re doing is sharing it with consumers, warts and all.