The honest story


December 2017, Jacob Schilstra

The consumer has insufficient trust in the food industry. It wasn’t for nothing that the outgoing chairman of the FNLI, Mr. B. van den Berg, called for its members to work hard on earning consumer confidence during the FNLI annual meeting in October. A number of points for improvement were cited, such as increasing sustainability, selling locally manufactured products, reducing sugar and salt in recipes and preventing fraud.

And for the first time, I also heard the young, ambitious marketing officer being mentioned. Marketers should emphasise the honest story to the consumer, rather than creative expressions that make the product seem better than it actually is. With this notion, the chairman hit the nail right on the head in my opinion.


The Consumers’ Association recently concluded that consumers are very upset about misleading packaging. Bart CombĂ©e, director of the Consumers’ Association notes: “There’s a very thin line between seduction and deception on packaging”. Keuringsdienst van Waarde, a Dutch consumer television programme regularly throws salt to the wound in this area. Clearly, there is work to be done. The integrity managers of brandholders need to work together with marketing managers to look closely at the information provided on packaging and stickers on their products.


Where the line between seduction and misleading is difficult to define, that of fraud is definitely clear. The horse meat scandal has certainly shaken up the food industry. As a result, a task force has appointed measures. Quality assurance systems now include criteria that should ensure that companies are aware of food fraud when purchasing raw materials. Meanwhile, the egg sector is examining how an incident such as the Fipronil affair could have been prevented. I find it interesting that in this type of incident the consumption of the affected products is quickly restored once the incident is under control.


The consumer seems to recognise that fraud is often committed by a particular group of individuals and that the sector can quickly correct this. However, if it appears that well-known brands intentionally steer the consumer in the wrong direction, the impact on consumer confidence is much greater. In this case, an entire company is behind the deception instead of a few individuals. Therefore, the integrity of the company is just as important as the integrity of the product.


So, it is certainly high-time for the honest story. Companies must include integrity as part of their management agenda, and then embed it into their corporate culture. This is an important role for the integrity manager. They must expand the management system by identifying and managing risks for both product and data integrity (VACCP). This not only involves risks for suppliers, but also for the company itself. Because as we all know: to improve the world, is to start with oneself.


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