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Trust in Food & Drink Retail

In the hyper-competitive world of grocery retail, the role of trust cannot be understated. It is the invisible thread that binds consumers to their preferred brands and retailers. In the UK, where retail concentration has led to intense competition and a relentless focus on price and promotions, consumer trust plays a pivotal role in the long term success of these retail giants.

The landscape of trust in supermarkets has undergone significant transformation over the years. In the past, basic trust was often conditioned by physical proximity; consumers shopped at their nearby stores. However, the growth in store numbers, evolution in store formats, and the rise of online shopping have redefined the parameters of trust. Trust is no longer merely about the convenience of a store's location; it's also about the broader shopping experience, incorporating elements of image, transparency and accountability, as well as the experience of the products bought and consumed.

The issue of food safety and quality assurance has always been a critical aspect of trust in the supermarket industry. In recent years, concerns over food safety and health have prompted consumers to be more discerning about the products they purchase. But beyond their own label offerings, this leaves most retailers with limited control of the decisions brand manufacturers take  to ensure quality, integrity and welfare throughout the value chain.

Consumers now demand more information about the products they buy, including their source, production methods, and the environmental and social impacts of the supply chain. These are some of the key elements that build trust in the food and drink ecosystem. Even if retailer involvement is limited, the perceived quality and integrity of their range impacts on consumers evaluation of the retailers overall trustworthiness. So, in the complex world of food and drink, what expectations do consumers have on retailers, manufacturers and other stakeholders in terms of their role in delivering high quality, safe, sustainable, yet affordable everyday food?

Our research showed that when it comes to general food safety, accuracy of claims and provision of overall quality in food and drink, consumers look first and foremost towards regulatory agencies such as the Food Standards Agency to ensure standards and frameworks are in place.  Manufacturers were ranked  second, with retailers seen as having little responsibility for standards. Other stakeholders, such as Assurance Schemes and Farmers played a more important role in the provision of animal welfare and sustainable production methods while retailers again were less relevant in the minds of the consumer in these areas.

Where retailers are seen as having the most responsibility is in the areas of fair pricing and overall affordability of food. The other responsible stakeholder here are the manufacturers but only after Government who is seen to hold a more important role in ensuring fairness in pricing. In general, the ‘blame’ for recent food pricing trends falls on High Energy Prices (48%), Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine (34%) but also on the Governments Economic Policy (31%). Just under a third (29%) of all consumers  think Supermarket profiteering has had a role to play in explaining the food inflation. This suggests that price and overall affordability have a much more significant role to play when it comes to consumers trust in retailers versus other stakeholders in the food & drink value chain. So, with such a focus on pricing, how have retailers fared in terms of overall trust in the current climate of higher food prices?

We will share this detail in our next article, but for now we can tell you that our recent research indicates that consumers have most trust in farmers, followed by small food manufacturers. Retailers are in third place only slightly better off than the relatively beleaguered financial services sector. Clothing retailers come fifth in our ranking and only then do we find large food manufacturers. This suggests that larger manufacturers are in fact more distrusted than the retailers they supply. For companies with well known consumer brands, this does not feel like a good place to be. Keep an eye out for our next article on the topic of trust, where you will also find a link to a report that includes all the data referenced in this article and more.

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