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Uncovering Innovation: Consumers and Transparency

June 9, 2016
Growers, processors, distributors, and retailers are all working together to provide solutions to sustainability, technology, and transparency issues to their consumers, a panel at the BIO International Convention emphasized on Tuesday.  The panel, Uncovering Innovation: Consumers and Transparency, was part of the annual Food and Ag Day at the convention. The panel featured Roger Lowe from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Cameron Bruett from JBS, and Doug Cole from the J.R. Simplot Company.

Sustainability is a hot button issue for consumers today, but what does it really mean? According to Cameron Bruett, the head of Corporate Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer with JBS, sustainability in this context refers to a food system utilizing methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources.  In short, it means doing more with less. And as Bruett noted, while sustainability and environmental impact are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Sometimes, they are even at odds with each other.

Given population growth trends, sustainability will become an even more important issue. Not only will the world’s population grow, but it will grow faster in cities, and the global middle class will grow exponentially, putting new and unique strains on the food system.  Bruett noted that ultimately, food production will need to be able to strike a balance between economic feasibility, societal needs, desires for safe and nutritious food, and environmental challenges.

Doug Cole, the director of marketing and communications at Simplot, noted that for him, sustainability means a more efficient crop and less consumer waste.  Simplot, a pioneer in the development and production of potatoes, has introduced potatoes that utilize technology to meet both sustainability goals and consumer needs.  These new potatoes contains three major benefits for potato growers, processors and consumers: reduced bruising and black spots; resistance to late blight pathogens; and enhanced cold storage capability. These benefits were achieved through biotechnology, adapting genes from wild and cultivated potatoes. This dramatically reduces food waste at all levels of the food value chain.

There are health benefits for consumers too.  Cole stated that Simplot’s GE potato has 70% less acrylamide, a chemical found in certain food such as potatoes when they are heated to high temperatures. Acrylamide has been linked to cancer in animal studies.

Healthy and safe foods are now two of the top priorities of consumers when purchasing food, according to Roger Lowe, the executive vice president of strategic communications at the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). Traditionally, price, taste and convenience have been the top factors in consumer food choice, but consumer values are changing.  Issues like health and wellness, safety, social impact, and the overall consumer experience are now higher priorities for consumers.

Surrounding all of these factors is a desire for transparency. Lowe said the food industry is adapting in these changing times, especially when it comes to transparency.  Increasingly, retailers are engaging with consumers about food ingredients, including the 30,000 new products since 2002. “Give consumers the tools and information they need, so that they can make informed decisions as to what they want to buy,” he added.

As a result, retailers and food companies have developed the SmartLabel™, which allows people to learn more about the products they use and consume every day.  Not only does the SmartLabel™ provide vital information about nutrition, ingredients and allergens, but they can provide information about the company itself, along with definitions of ingredients, sourcing of ingredients, and process information, such as genetic engineering.

Introduced in 2015, more than three dozen companies have committed to this technology.  Hellman’s is one brand utilizing the SmartLabel™ to provide more information to their consumers.

While each of the panelists represented different parts of the food chain, together they showed how all segments of food and agriculture are adapting to consumer needs and desires by showing a commitment to transparency, innovation and technology, and sustainability.