Transparency builds trust: Lessons from the 2016 MMPA Dairy Communicator Meeting

As a dairy farmer, you know your product is wholesome and nutritious. You know you put animal care above all else. And you know you are good stewards of the environment. But when continual demands from uninformed consumers make their way down the pipeline and impact the way you dairy, it can be hard to understand the consumer’s motivation.

At the 2016 Dairy Communicator (DC) meeting, the approximately 60 DCs in attendance learned about what drives consumers based on research from the Center for Food Integrity (CFI). And the key is transparency.

The CFI’s Donna Moenning headlined the meeting, providing information on building consumer trust through transparency to the DCs.  Also at the April 14 meeting, MMPA President Ken Nobis and United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) Director of Industry Relations Jolene Griffin provided updates on MMPA and the dairy checkoff. Rounding out the day was Elaine Bristol, program manager for the Michigan Ag Council, who unveiled the new Michigan Grown marketing campaign.

At the annual meeting, MMPA’s DCs gather to swap dairy promotion ideas and gather new information in preparation for another year of fairs, farm tours, school visits, social media engagement and addressing consumer concerns. Moenning’s presentation provided the DCs with the appropriate research to understand what consumers crave and how to connect with them.

“Consumers certainly are asking more questions than ever before about food, what’s in it, how it’s produced and who’s producing it,” said Moenning. “They simply want to know that the people producing their food are doing the right thing.”

CFI’s Consumer Trust Study analyzes consumer attitudes and stays abreast of relevant issues to understand trust and learn ways to engage with consumers in new ways. The research explored transparency in relation to food safety, environmental impact, animal well-being, impact of food on health, labor and human rights and business ethics.

The results demonstrated consumers hold food companies primarily responsible for “trust-building transparency.” An area of particular note is animal well-being, consumers expect transparency from food companies—not farmers—to demonstrate food production animals receive proper care.

The research also explored what issues consumers focused on when purchasing food. Understanding what issues are most prevalent in their minds helps the food and agriculture industry learn how to address these concerns.

“A top concern among consumers is finding healthy affordable food. Yet of the 18 issues presented, the lowest concern was for having enough food to feed people outside of the U.S.  How often do we hear people in agriculture say: ‘We need to do “this” because we have a growing world population and need to increase food production.’ That is a key piece in understanding consumers today,” Moenning explained.

So how do we properly engage with these consumers? Moenning explained the vital element is values. Farmers are driven by their values, and so are consumers. Using those values to connect is the key to demonstrating the motivation behind your on-farm practices and the way you produce food.

Moenning reminded the DCs food is personal.  The first priority for consumers is feeding their own family. Connecting with the public on this “value’ rather than world food needs is important to our communication efforts.

“As we understand our consumers, how do we embrace their concerns? It’s all about shared values. Your values are the door that opens you up to engagement with consumers,” Moenning asserted. “Our stories, our values have an impact.”


MMPA Dairy Communicator Service Awards

MMPA’s team of dairy communicators, nominated by their local, work to promote dairy and communicate in the interest of dairy farmers in their communities since the late 1970s. At the network’s annual meeting, MMPA honors those communicators reaching a service milestone.

30 Years

  • Cheri Chapin
  • Geraldine Emmons

15 Years

  • Connie Lucas
  • Joy Marvin
  • Judy Oesch

10 Years

  • Shelly Messing
  • Virginia Ankley

5 Years

  • Amy Martin

This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.