- Consumers express concerns about the environmental impact of the food system, with only 37% believing the food created today is sustainable.
- The majority of Europeans are hesitant when it comes to new innovations, highlight an urgent need for the industry to do more to promote confidence.
- Transparency is a major issue for Europeans, with only a third believing that manufacturers are sufficiently candid.
The study surveyed more than 20,000 consumers from 18 European countries in 2021 to measure consumer confidence in the food system and trust in products. This scope was expanded with data from the EIT Food TrustTracker, an evidence-based, peer-reviewed tool that has been measuring consumer confidence since 2018.
The TrustTracker maps confidence by country and over time using validated measurement scales, including beliefs about the competence, attention and openness of stakeholders, as well as confidence in the integrity of products (authenticity, health, safety, sustainability and taste).
EIT Food is supported by the EU’s European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The study was conducted by a consortium of pan-European academic partners, including the University of Reading, the European Food Information Council (FEFIC), Aarhus University, KU Leuven and the University of Warsaw.
Consumer trust plummets in France
The EIT Food Trust report found that less than half of Europeans are confident in the integrity of food products, a figure that drops to 45% in France. Only 48% of Europeans trust food manufacturers and authorities, the latter group slightly pipping producers (29% and 25% respectively) on the trust meter.
In France, conviction in manufacturers (30%) is the lowest level of any country surveyed in Europe, while trust in authorities is also below average at 43%.
“People are at the heart of our mission to make Europe's food system healthier and more sustainable,” said Saskia Nuijten, director of Communication and Public Engagement at EIT Food.
“Helping to build trust between consumers and the food sector is essential if we are to improve nutrition for all.
"In addition to innovations that are helping to transform our food system, citizens need and want access to clearer, better information.
“There is a growing desire for simplicity and clarity, even though the pandemic has led many people to prioritise community values. In particular, consumers value transparency at every stage of the food chain, and the food sector must rise to the challenge.”
While European consumers generally believe that manufacturers are competent (58%) and have the necessary skills (55%), only 37% believe they are sufficiently open or honest about their role in the food system (36%).
Challenge: A lack of transparency is at the root of this lack of trust.
Similarly, consumers view the transparency and commitment from authorities as a problem, with 37% happy with their frankness and satisfied with their efforts to listen to the opinions of ordinary people.
Retailers garner the greater public trust, with 54% of consumers mollified with their competence, openness and caring. In France, however, this figure is again below average at 42%.
Famers come in the highest on the consumer trust indicator, with 67% of consumers expressing confidence – a figure that has remained stable since 2021.
Sustainable food choices
A third of the European public is concerned about the environmental impact of the food system.
However, while 76% of Europeans say they are motivated to live a sustainable life, only 51% actually take this into account when making food choices.
Challenge: This highlights the so-called ‘attitude-behaviour gap’ between consumers who want to make choices that protect the planet and those who have actively changed their lifestyle.
In France, 6ix in 10 consumers maintain to already eat sustainably, indicating the French are more likely to take steps (or at least, believe they are).
37% of Europeans are open to adopting new foods, but the majority are hesitant.
Challenge: The food system has more to do to promote confidence in innovation.
“The food system needs to be transformed if we are to succeed in ensuring healthy and sustainable food for all,” said Dr Anna Macready, associate professor at the University of Reading.
“We cannot do this without putting consumers at the heart of this transformation, so they can have confidence the food they eat is good for them and for the planet.
“As we develop the new innovations and technologies needed to sustain the food system, we need to do more to engage directly with consumers, helping them make the right decisions that lead to healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.”
Added Maxine Roper, cofounder of Connecting Food, an EIT Food RisingFoodStar startup that uses blockchain technology to be more transparent, “Transparency is about reconnecting consumers in a way that helps them have confidence and understand how their food is produced.
“In the past, the marketing of food brands has sometimes led to overstated or untrustworthy claims about the product, which has, understandably, led many consumers to scepticism about the information they receive. Instead, we need clear and accessible data on the traceability of our supply chains, to help consumers build their confidence in the food chain.”