Public trust in Canada’s food system is at an all-time high, thanks to agri-food stakeholders’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity’s (CCFI) 2020 public trust research shows that despite the unusual challenges the Canadian food system has faced this year, the sector’s actions have resulted in an overall increase in trust and positivity in the food system.
“The proportion of Canadians who feel our food system is headed in the right direction has reached a five-year high and more specifically, the food system’s response to COVID-19 is highly praised by Canadians,” said Paighton Smyth, CCFI’s partner engagement coordinator. “Nearly nine in 10 trust that the food system will ensure the availability of healthy food for Canadians.”
This year’s research was presented in November as part of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair’s online Food and Nutrition Forum.
With five years of research showing a steady rise in Canadians’ trust in the food system, the increase demonstrated this year is a major opportunity, said John Jamieson, CCFI’s president and CEO.
“People are interested in what we’re doing, they’re interested in how we do our job, and that creates an opportunity for us to connect with consumers and to point out the opportunity for the agri-food system of Canada to help lead economic recovery as we deal with this pandemic and eventually come out of it,” said Jamieson.
The number of Canadians who feel the food system is moving in the right direction rose by 12 per cent, from 35 per cent in 2019 to 47 per cent in 2020. “There have been a corresponding significant decrease in the proportion of those who think the country’s food system is on the wrong track and those who just don’t know,” said Smyth.
“Despite vocal critics and a global pandemic, Canadians are confident in and optimistic about the food they eat and those who produce it,” she said. “Canada’s food system stakeholders should be very proud of their efforts to ensure Canadians have uninterrupted access to healthy food.”
Cost of food still biggest concern
The 2020 report comprises three parts, the first of which is CCFI’s annual public trust opinion survey, sampling 2,903 Canadians aged 18 and older and representing the general population. The second part includes research on the efforts of agri-food stakeholders to build public trust, while the third section includes relevant research from external sources.
In identifying top issues of concern, the survey found the cost of food continues to be of highest concern, as seen in previous years, with just fewer than six in 10 stating they’re very concerned about food affordability. After cost of food came the Canadian economy, keeping healthy food affordable, the safety of imported food and the federal deficit as the issues of highest concern.
In light of the effect of COVID-19 on Canadians, the survey included questions specific to the pandemic. Although a solid majority believe the supply chain will ensure all Canadians can access fresh food, many have other food-related concerns.
“Six in 10 say they’re worried about the safety of food in restaurants, and half say they’re concerned about the safety of food in grocery stores,” said Smyth. “A reflection of the difficult financial times facing many, half say there’s less money available to spend on food compared to before the pandemic.”
Google tops social media
A noteworthy area of this year’s research explores the topics Canadians are interested in and where they actively seek information. For the past two years, the leading topic Canadians sought information on was nutrition and healthy eating, followed by food safety, sustainability and plant-based meat alternatives, respectively.
The primary sources for Canadians who sought information on these topics were Google searches and websites. These findings show that “communication efforts need to be on platforms where people are looking,” Smyth explained. “Social media channels such as Instagram are powerful tools for engagement, but when a consumer is wondering something like, ‘what are the top three ways I can decrease my environmental footprint,’ they turn to Google.”
This insight reveals the opportunity in tailoring consumer-focused communication efforts for search engine optimization. “We know when people are going to Google looking for information. They’ll pick the first two or three options that are out there, so we need to do a pretty good job in the industry of being well up there in that list,” said Jamieson.
Attitudes on food safety were another area of interest, with most Canadians feeling secure in the safety of Canadian-produced food. “This sentiment has reached a five-year high, with six in 10 strongly agreeing with the statement, ‘I trust food produced in Canada more than I trust food produced outside of Canada,’” said Smyth.
As well, the survey found that about six in 10 Canadians believe the food system has the right amount of food safety regulations, but more than a third of respondents feel more regulations are needed. Those respondents were asked which areas they feel should be more regulated, with pesticides and chemicals, genetic modifications and food waste as the top three answers.
“Calls for increased regulation may actually reflect a lack of knowledge about what’s already being done on issues Canadians care about,” said Smyth. “A good first step in addressing these findings is to make sure you’re highlighting the regulations and standards in place to build awareness and trust on these important food system topics.”
To learn more about CCFI’s research into consumer concerns on food affordability and sustainability, see the January 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen.