Consumers are concerned about their health, the health of their family and the environmental health of the earth.
SAN DIEGO – Facts supporting food science might be important, but aggregating them for the sole purpose of winning arguments with consumers might be a losing strategy, said Linda Eatherton, partner and director, global food and beverage practice, for Ketchum.

Linda Eatherton, partner and director of global food and beverage practice for Ketchum

“When you have someone in your face saying your truth stinks, what do you do?” she said. “You get mad. Well, that’s how (consumers) feel about it, too.

“So we’re never, ever going to bridge this divide if we come at it from my truth is better than your truth, you’re wrong, I’m right — trying to achieve a winning position. Winning is not part of the equation anymore.”

Food scientists and other professionals in the food industry first should seek common ground with consumers, she said Oct. 9 in her keynote talk at Cereals 17, the AACC International annual meeting in San Diego. Find out their thoughts. Consumers might be interested in their health, the health of their family and the environmental health of the earth. Industry professionals should communicate that they share a value system with consumers. Doing so may allow industry professionals to earn consumers’ trust, enough trust that consumers may listen to scientific facts.


Although consumers may worry about processed foods, they also may allow exceptions.
And guess what? Although consumers may worry about processed foods, they also may allow exceptions.

“They’re not saying I want zero processing in my food,” Eatherton said. “They’re saying they actually do recognize the importance of convenience and convenient foods, and their lives are very busy. So they see a value here. What they’re saying to us is, ‘I don’t necessarily love process, but if you give me a good reason why these processes and these ingredients were used in this food, then I’m going to be okay with it.’”

Consumers want to hear how an ingredient or process is being used for their benefit and their families’ benefit, making them healthier or stronger. The ingredient or process may have sustainable, environmental advantages, too.

“But if you put that ingredient in or that process in because you were cutting corners, because it was cheaper than the other one, you are doing it at (the consumer’s) expense,” Eatherton said. “That’s the way they view processing.”

Consumers seek transparency, such as through QR codes.
Consumers seek transparency from food companies, but that does not mean unloading all the information about an ingredient or process. It means providing access to the information, such as through QR (quick-response) codes, she said. Videos and animation on YouTube are another option.

Ketchum research shows 66 percent of consumers want more communication from food companies and 50 percent expect food companies to engage consumers through social media.

Ketchum research has identified “food evangelists” as people who are powerful in driving influence in food and beverage purchases. Among food evangelists, 40 percent share brand and food choices, 40 percent share opinions on eating, 38 percent recommend or criticize a food brand and 44 percent recommend or critique a food product. They may comment on-line about food four times or more a week.

Food evangelists want to know how companies may make their life better and their children’s lives better. They are “extremely opinionated,” Eatherton said. Twitter is the No. 1 place they congregate. Instagram is their second choice. The incomes of food evangelists are spread evenly. While Ketchum considered 22 percent of the global population to be food evangelists in 2013, the percentage grew to 24 percent in 2015.