NEW ORLEANS — Consumers demand for clean label food is closely tied to consumer trust, or mistrust, of the food industry, according to research done by InsightNow. As a part of their presentation, “Overcoming Clean Label Challenges in the New Trust Economy,” at IFT19, held June 2-5 in New Orleans, Dave Lundahl, chief executive officer of InsightsNow, and Greg Stucky, chief insights officer, outlined how people’s mistrust of big food has fueled clean label. From the company’s findings, they also outline ways the food industry can bridge the gap between consumers and food companies.

Over a period of three years, InsightsNow has surveyed 20,000 U.S. shoppers on the topic of clean label in order to better understand the trend.

“What we’re finding is underlying everything is trust,” Mr. Lundahl said.

With the proliferation of social media, bloggers and a 24-hour news cycle, consumers are inundated with information, not all of it accurate. Seventy-eight per cent of people encounter conflicting information all the time, a number Mr. Stucky said he expected to be even higher. All of this information and confusion has eroded consumer trust with only 40% of consumers surveyed saying they had any amount of trust in the current food system.

To understand this lack of trust, InsightsNow surveyed both general population as well as a segment of consumers it refers to as the “clean label enthusiasts” about who they trust in the food system and who they hold responsible. While there were gaps in both populations, showing a lack of trust and high level of responsibility for food producers, the trust gap for clean label enthusiasts was significantly higher.

For example, 62% of clean label enthusiasts said they held food companies responsible for the food they created, but only 26% trusted food companies. Of non-clean label enthusiasts, 69% held food companies responsible, and 36% trusted food companies.

From left: Dave Lundahl, chief executive officer of InsightsNow, and Greg Stucky, chief insights officer, discussed consumer perceptions of the food industry.

Despite this gap in trust, InsightsNow argued that the clean label enthusiasts could hold the key to bridging that gap and reshaping the food industry.

“The food industry needs advocates who are real people,” Mr. Lundahl said, asserting this group could serve that purpose. “They are great advocates who can take the industry into the future.”

When looking at what these consumers believe and how they consume information, InsightsNow discovered that while clean label enthusiasts are skeptical, they do trust scientific experts. Ninety per cent of them, in fact, said they fact check claims they see.

“You have to put your information out there so they can find it,” Mr. Stucky said. “Look at who you are engaging online. Is it just your colleagues or is it consumers too?”

Listening to and collaborating with these consumers can also bring successful product innovations around. Communication with these consumers is key to building back trust in the food system.

“Leverage those advocates and supporting science to close the responsibility and trust gap,” Mr. Lundahl said.