Creating transparency in the food supply chain is nothing new, but it has now become inevitable thanks to rapidly growing consumer pressure. Today, consumers want to know exactly where food products come from: 94% believe that transparency fosters brand loyalty1, 81% are willing to try a brand’s entire portfolio of products if it offers transparency, and 57% check a label to see the provenance of their groceries.
Translating this consumer behaviour from retail to foodservice, this is excellent news for restaurant businesses. There are huge commercial benefits to be gained through transparent food sourcing and messaging, with the chance to create authentic stories around ingredients mentioned in menus and hence build trust among customers. What makes this even more encouraging is the fact that a host of new services is springing up to meet transparency expectations in the food industry.
The foodservice industry is changing
The farm to fork concept sounds like basic common sense, but why did it take so long to become mainstream? Although transparency is expected from food businesses, there are challenges to getting there. For one, the food supply chain is traditionally made up of many different steps, making traceability difficult. These are:
Sourcing of raw materials
Processing and packaging
Retail/catering redistribution to consumers
Additionally, there has also been a lack of technology to track the food product journey, and players in the food supply chain have been slow to recognise the need for change. Surprisingly, the traditional wholesaler model has not been challenged for 50 years. This is evinced by the fact that the big companies that monopolise the food supply sector today were actually founded decades ago, before the internet was invented, showing that food supply is a sector ready for disruption.
There are real negative consequences to such opacity in the food supply chain. In February last year, the meat supplier Russell Hume went into administration after the Food Standard Agency (FSA) found “serious non-compliance with food hygiene regulations”. Russell Hume had been supplying nationwide brands such as Wetherspoons and the now defunct Jamie Oliver’s Italian: a clear example of how widespread unethical practices in food sourcing are. There are many more examples of this. On the 20th October 2019, CNBC revealed that Amazon customers reported receiving expired food through their online orders, including baby formula, coffee creamer, beef jerky and granola bars, to name a few. The article states that expired food is regularly sold to consumers via third-party vendors due to loopholes in Amazon’s technology and logistics system, in a complex infrastructure where neither the vendors nor the platform take accountability.
The horse meat scandal of 2013 also comes to mind when thinking of food supply chain disasters that have really let consumers down, again brought about by opaque stages in the journey of food to plate.
Consumers are in the driver’s seat
It’s no surprise that consumers are outraged by incidences like these. A huge part of the move towards a transparent food supply chain is driven by consumers who, thanks to modern technology, now have greater access to information than ever before, and are using that knowledge to make informed decisions on the products they buy. According to Label Insight, 91% of customers verify information for themselves when a brand claims to be “healthy” or “nutritious”. Whether for health reasons, allergies, ethics or personal choice, the public have become more engaged with the food they consume and restaurants/foodservice businesses are expected to provide more information about the products they sell.
Where does this leave foodservice businesses?
Foodservice businesses are right in expecting greater profitable revenue when they are transparent with their consumers. Customers want to know more about food provenance and traceability. They are interested in who produced the food, and how; back stories behind the producers provide positive contexts that consumers can engage with. They also want to know that they are supporting ethical businesses, understanding what the honest cost of food is (such as clarity on how much people working at the different stages of the supply chain actually get paid). The more honest the business, the more successful the brand.
Transparency success stories
There are plenty of case studies to back this up. The London chain Cocotte Rotisserie proudly shares information with their customers about the source of their high quality yet affordable chicken. Their menu states:
“Cocotte is a farm to table chicken rotisserie serving healthy, homemade dishes made from fresh, farm grown ingredients. All our free-range chickens are sourced from Evron in the Loire Valley of France.” Cocotte’s owner, Romain Bourrillon, says: “I believe that people are more and more careful about what they eat. We want to create trust with our customers so they know they always find a good quality product with us, plus offering full traceability makes a big difference compared to our competitors.”
So too have the French, family-run poultry farms who supply Cocotte benefitted from this transparency.
“Receiving positive feedback from Cocotte on the products we supply them with is fantastic.” says Tom Davison, representative of the “Nature and Respect” farming group in the UK, “It reinforces our belief that our product is high quality, and gives us great pride in the work we are doing.”
Using technology to create a transparent food supply chain
Today there’s a new generation of suppliers and services that help businesses become more transparent. One such service provider is Collectiv Food, who have just launched a new website in their commitment to transparency. They leverage technology to reconnect restaurants with food producers and handle the full supply chain directly. By bypassing the middleman, food buyers know exactly where the food comes from, who produced it and when, how it is stored, and at what temperature. Importantly, they can also receive information on how much the producers get paid, unlike the traditional wholesaler.
Collectiv Food’s Founder and CEO, Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi, says:
“Somehow food producers and restaurants have lost contact with each other over time. This brings only negative effects to both sides of the marketplace: businesses are too vulnerable to the wholesale giants, without mentioning the lack of information on what people buy or eat. We’ve made transparency the foundation of everything we do: our digital tools and our supply chain model helps food producers, restaurants and end customers all make better informed decisions.”
According to a recent research by IGD.com, consumers will want to make more sustainable and ethical choices in the next 5 to 10 years. Jeremy says:
“That’s why a fairer food supply chain is so important. In our business model producers are paid more and at the order. Their names are not whipped out by white labelling practices and they can finally bring their brand in front of restaurants, receive direct feedback from customers and establish long term relationships. In turn, restaurants use this message about fair dealing to strengthen their own brand, which creates a win-win situation for all.”
Services like this provide the transparency that restaurant businesses are looking for to meet consumer demand. Through clear pricing on products; details on the journey of food from farm to plate; how much and when the producers are paid; and stories behind the ingredients; food service businesses can truly build up trust and brand loyalty from consumers.