By: Katie Das
In the past 20 years I have spent time working in almost every function of the food industry: R&D and product development, consumer research, marketing, general management and finally food safety and quality assurance. The common thread has been my passion for helping companies big and small to make and sell healthy, high quality affordable food.
I love building strong and differentiated brands that satisfy consumers. But this blog is not about traditional branding efforts- I would like to build a case on on why it is important for businesses to invest in food safety and quality and make it a part of your brand’s storytelling and community building efforts.
- Differentiating your products through quality: As a business leader and a marketer I know that food safety is an essential building block of brand’s success. Many consumer assume the food they buy in the supermarket or a restaurant is inherently safe. When their expectations are not met (e.g. in case of the food borne illness outbreak or a recall) they become mistrustful and as a result business and brand reputation suffers long lasting consequences (1) The sensation-seeking media isn’t making it easy for brands to recover from a recall or an outbreak. People avoid buying your product or spend their lunch money elsewhere. Customer goodwill evaporates seemingly overnight. Revenues plummet and market value is lost. Consumer’s good will and brand equity take years to build- one incident can ruin it in just a few days. Investing in quality and food safety is an important measure of your brand equity. Food safety and quality KPI should absolutely be considered as one of the measures your brand’s health.
- Keeping your customers happy through increasing transparency: Today’s consumer wants to know how their food is made- transparency is the key here (2) Recent study shows that 94% of consumers want to know about about what is in their food and how it’s made (3) . If there is no transparency, many suspect the food (especially the processed kind) made from chemicals they cannot pronounce and the GMO- derived ingredients in a lab. To combat this perception why not show them how the product is made? Delivering on customer’s expectation of seeing how the product is put together through manufacturing and supply chain transparency not only will delight your consumer but also will bring valuable differentiation to your brand. Tools like Instagram stories or Facebook Live feature can be utilized to show your food safety measures, showcase your product integrity. When it comes to food safety, show and tell is an innovative and differentiating tool for your marketing and branding efforts.
- Empowering your team: educating your team and being consistent in positive reinforcement of the food safety practices is essential for building strong food safety culture. Understanding the science behind the principles of food safety will empower them to do the right thing. An educated and empowered staff is more likely to take pride in what they do and the safety measures they help to maintain and reinforce. As a business and team leader I have found the most effective way of building a food safety system is partnering with your team and making them equal stakeholders in the process.
- Aligning the incentives to improve food safety: is your QA team report up to manufacturing/operations or to R&D/Marketing? This can make a huge difference in how their success is measured. The truth is- in many companies QA reports to the manufacturing or operations which means their success depends on KPI’s that are set for manufacturing success, not necessarily always ensuring quality. It is time that the companies realize that quality and food safety are as important to brand maintenance as ad spend or consistency of brand image and communication.
Some of the changes above might take time to implement and some might be easier to put in practice in a short term. The important part is to start making progress- understand what food safety practices your business has in place, note what improvements are needed, partner with trusted professionals and food safety consultants, educate your team and treat food safety and quality as an important branding tool. Your consumers and your team and shareholders will thank you for it.
Katie Das is a managing partner of Stand Assured Consulting, a small but mighty consulting group that aims to help growing brands in food manufacturing, restaurants, retail and cannabis industries to tackle food safety issues.
(1) Young and Morris, Food Safety Risk: Consumer Perception and Purchase Behavior (British Food Journal 103(3):170-187, 2001)
(2) Deloitte Consulting LLP, Food Value Equation Study, 2015
(3) “How consumer demand for transparency is shaping the food industry”, The Label Insight 2016 Food Revolution Study