Canadian Centre for Food Integrity kicks off

News Roundup from the May 2016 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Farm & Food Care Canada (F&FC Canada) is on target with its year-one game plan culminating with the official kickoff of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CFI) and a rundown on insights from Canada’s first public-trust research on farming and food during the Public Trust Summit at the end of this month in Ottawa.

The Canadian CFI is a division of F&FC Canada, which is a rebranding of the Farm & Food Care Foundation, a charitable organization formed five years ago. As an affiliate of the U.S. CFI, the Canadian CFI’s focus is on public-trust research, gathering intelligence and developing strategy, while F&FC Canada is the public face to put it all into action, explains F&FC Canada CEO Crystal Mackay. She took on the national job full time in January after looking after it part time along with her work for the Ontario F&FC.

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Public-trust research dives deeper than just monitoring trends by exploring the underlying beliefs and values that drive consumer behaviour and then wrap those insights into meaningful messages to build consumer confidence in today’s farming practices and by extension the entire food chain.

That’s a big responsibility that needs a bigger voice so F&FC Canada, working with the Canadian CFI, intends to turn up the volume in a big way by involving farmers in all sectors and their associations, plus the companies that supply their agricultural inputs and services, as well as educators, processors, retailers and food-service companies.

“It’s a new frontier — a whole-sector proactive approach with shared vision and investment in building public trust in food and farming,” says Mackay. “The more voices, physically and financially, the stronger and more credible we will be.”

Eight years in, the U.S. CFI, with its 150 members and research partners drawn from right across the food chain, is having an impact on the U.S. conversation about food and farming by targeting believable messages to people who genuinely want to learn more.

The U.S. CFI’s research says public confidence is the No. 1 driver of trust. It’s three to five times more important than competency because people are more likely to act on their feelings and beliefs than on what they know. And the best way to instil confidence is by demonstrating values that align with consumers’ values.

It starts by listening to concerns and engaging with consumers online in places where farming and food conversations are happening. The key is to stay engaged once you get the conversation rolling because research shows that one negative message that takes hold in the public’s mind neutralizes five positive ones. The goal isn’t to win an argument, but to win a friend, explained U.S. CFI’s CEO, Charlie Arnot, in a webinar hosted by F&FC Canada.

F&FC Canada is testing the public-trust model that’s been developed to be sure it’s the right formula for Canada. Public-trust research will be conducted annually and include the Canadian consumer tracking survey carried out by F&F Care Ontario every fourth year.

“We want to start with the end in mind by asking the public first before we decide where to spend our time and money,” Mackay explains.

The U.S. CFI’s 2014 research was focused on moms, millennials and foodies. Of the 17 societal concerns listed, rising food costs and having affordable and healthful food were among the top three check-box concerns for all groups.

Forty-two per cent said the food system is on the right track, while 30 per cent said it’s on the wrong track and 27 per cent were unsure. It’s significant that the percentage saying it’s on the right track was up eight per cent over the previous year.

For the first time, websites, rather than local television, were the primary go-to source of information for food system issues.

Are Canadian moms, millennials and foodies thinking the same? Are they looking for information in the same places?

It will be interesting to find out, says Mackay. This first 400-page report will be a lot to absorb.

Once it is presented at the summit, MacKay say the plan is to distribute the content in a series of webinars.

The group continues to circulate its flagship publication, The Real Dirt on Farming, and will be training messengers and seeking Canadian experts to join the 180 from the U.S. who answer consumer and media questions as a public service on bestfoodfacts.org.

It’s all part of F&FC Canada’s 25-year vision because, as MacKay puts it, you can’t advertise your way to trust.

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