GFSI 2018 - Safe Food for Consumers Everywhere

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) aims to improve food safety through industry collaboration and knowledge sharing by bringing representatives of the world’s biggest food companies, governments and standards owners together to discuss industry challenges.

Consumer trust has never been more important, which is why food safety is now top of the agenda for FMCG giants. Food quality scandals can pose serious reputational risks to brands and result in consumers looking elsewhere for their goods. Consumers are demanding more information about the products they buy, and technology is making this easier to achieve. But how should the food industry best leverage the latest technologies to meet and exceed consumer expectations? And on a global scale, how can technology help with the challenges that lie ahead?

Buzzwords like “blockchain” or “IoT” are appealing and ambitious concepts that can easily be misunderstood. But when applied to the food industry, they can all be used to serve the same end goal: achieving transparency. These concepts ultimately enable food businesses around the world to optimize their production. For example, they can monitor their supply chains and take action to improve the status quo, reduce food waste, improve food safety, or share more detailed information with consumers.

The conference also makes clear that consumers play a more important role than ever and two things are striking here: Changing behaviours and trust.

We are changing our habits: We’re eating on the go. We’re ordering in. We’re demanding “fresh,” “organic,” “local,” “healthy” foods. A global survey, initiated by Ecolab, identified five major trends that already influence food production:

  • Convenience: Online ordering and delivery from restaurants and grocery stores; meal ingredients delivered in meal kits; fully prepared meals ready to eat from the local grocery store
  • On-the-go eating for on-the-go lifestyles: Around the world, 30 percent of meals are eaten on the go
  • Fresh, local ingredients: Two-thirds of 4,600 diners surveyed in nine countries said fresh, local food is the most important factor in their choice of restaurant
  • Health and wellness: In a survey, more than 90 percent said healthy options were at least “somewhat important” in where and what to eat
  • Information and transparency: Consumers expect clear labelling. What ingredients are in the product? How was it grown and processed?

Our behaviour is also influenced by technology. We use technology to be informed and to share our experiences.  Empowered consumers are demanding not only high-quality, health-conscious products, but sustainable, ethical, and transparent sourcing and manufacturing practices. And we have a world of information at our fingertips informing and influencing our food choices. So we only buy and consume when we trust. Therefore, “trust” is another buzzword that achieves more importance. If we talk about “trust” we need to consider the following:

  • Building a foundation of trust with our consumers takes years to establish and can take only minutes to lose
  • Food is far more than a product or source of fuel. We use food to celebrate or to build relationships every day, in every culture 

As consumers we trust that our food has been sourced correctly, handled properly and prepared safely. If that trust is broken, it provokes a deeply personal reaction breaking our confidence. Organisations must fully commit to protecting this trust by embracing their own ethics and prioritising transparency both internally and externally.

So, if we produce food, what can we do to build and maintain trust? One of the best things to do is to put preventative measures in place before problems arise. These measures can be implemented through a combination of strategies:

  • Having a strong supplier management programme in place to mitigate health risks through the monitoring of perishable foods from supplier to your consumer
  • Having the right product inspection equipment installed that minimizes risks by a maximum and ensures compliance
  • Implementing adequate food safety and food culture training of your staff
  • Ensuring your product descriptions are accurate for consumers