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National Restaurant Association - Consumers: Be more transparent to keep our business

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Consumers: Be more transparent to keep our business

Consumers are sending a clear message to restaurants and food: they want transparency regarding their business practices and want to find it more easily.

According to a Center for Food Integrity study, skepticism of big restaurant chains and food-producing companies is increasing. Consumer trust would improve if the companies were more transparent about their business practices, policies and performance.

The online survey explored responses from 2,000 consumers and identified the most important elements of transparency in:

  • Food safety.
  • The relationship between diet and health.
  • Environmental impact.
  • Farm animal well-being.
  • Labor and human rights.
  • Business ethics.

“The intention was to really show our stakeholders specifically what they must do to increase consumer trust,” said Charlie Arnot, the Center for Food Integrity’s CEO. “We found that transparency is not optional. If you’re not transparent, the public will believe you’ve got something to hide.”

Two basic themes evolved from the study:

1. Sharing information on company practices is more important than policy or performance.

2. Consumers want companies to engage in public dialog, provide access to information, and acknowledge and answer their questions.

He cited McDonald’s as top-notch regarding transparency.

“They’ve really gone the extra mile,” he said. “Let’s face it; consumers have a lot of questions about where their food comes from, its quality and other issues.’ McDonald’s “gives straight answers to tough questions through its, “Our food, Your Questions” campaign.  “They made a very intentional decision to make all of that information highly available and visible. It’s a way to manage the consumer confidence issue much more proactively.”

Some companies are slower to get behind transparency, he said. “They may be asking what the return on investment is and the truth is it may or may not increase sales in the short term. But it does increase confidence in the long term and allows consumers to feel comfortable. That translates into greater brand loyalty over time.”

Brands properly practicing transparency will reduce consumer skepticism, he claimed.

“It will give the industry the ability to say it recognizes and hears the concerns of its customers and is doing all it can to make them feel more comfortable when dining out,” he said. “There are some that aren’t yet convinced it is important, but our hyper-connected society will drive more to embrace transparency. When anyone with a cell phone can be a cinematographer, you have to assume someone is watching everything you do all the time. If you make a different assumption, you do so at your own peril.”

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