SPAG and Reputation Today hosted the second edition of the policy series on the 21st of August 2020; the topic of discussed was ‘Consumer safety and Transparency: Food & Nutrition’. The discussion was moderated by Aman Gupta, SPAG; and the panelist included; Garima Singh – Government Affairs, Mondelez; Ishteyaque Amjad– Public Relations, Coca Cola; and Pankaj Mahajan, Corporate Affairs, Cargill. The discussion revolved around two major areas; 1) safety and transparency in the food industry in the context of India, 2) the effects of COVID-19 on the food industry, as well as the measures taken to deal with it.
Safety and Transparency in India
“The food industry is a diverse, large and growing industry; furthermore, it requires strong policies that are open to new opportunities to allow it to change”, said Aman Gupta who opened the discussion addressing the importance of trust in rapidly-growing industry. Singh stated that trust is the basis of any relationship, the easiest way to achieve these principles is to, follow legal guidelines, and respect stakeholders. The panelists highlighted the difference between understanding what the consumers want and what the need is. Amjad pointed out the two main demographics in India – the first is the well informed, sensitised, educated India; second are the consumers that are trying to make their way to the middle class.
The diversity in the growing socio-economic landscape has brought about a variety of needs on the side of the consumers. Some customers would want health, nutritious food options, where as others would want affordable accessible goods. This also led to the discussion of what food standards represent nowadays; one cannot simply abide by general food standards, but also ought to understand the needs of the consumers’ demographics. Information on labels are present to inform consumers that they have choices in what they consume. Amjad discussed how in the past we used to see as the better product/goods; from desire of foreign to hyper local goods over time. Even from the perspective of the educated consumer, we can see a desire to go local. This promotes the local economy, reduces expenses, and allows consumers to be more aware of the ingredients in the product.
When approached with the question of how much information should be initially provided to the customer; Singh stated their role was to guide customers in making choices, and the presence of too much information would further confuse customers. Singh highlight that customer trust plays a major role in allowing customers to make choices with less desire to know absolute information. In response to a question from a viewer regarding, myths surrounding the nutritional value of coke and diet coke; Amjad highlighted the fact that myths were sure to arise with large companies, and the role that customer trust plays, especially during these times. Big companies would put in the time and effort into research for their product; furthermore, consumers have to trust that companies are producing products that are well informed and safe for the consumers.
Impact of Covid-19 and the response of the food industry
When discussing the effects of COVID, the main focuses were maintaining production and distribution chains; however, companies were also observing there product quality. Amjad brought to attention the fact that India has the third highest infected cases, yet it has a low death rate. Food is an important factor to build immunity; furthermore, adjusting food nutrition could play a major role in promoting that. This was used as the base to iterate the importance of understanding and changing with the needs of the people, especially responding to the immediate needs of the consumers.
Government response was highlighted as a key player in the response to the pandemic. Singh commended the government as well as local authorities in the cooperation with the food industry, she highlighted the importance of establishing networks within governing bodies as well as community leaders. Mahajan pointed out the efficient real time response that was conducted by the government, further speaking to the importance of the food industry’s functionality during this time. Mahajan also touched on the importance of a well-established network within the company, due to the way Cargill command chain was structured it took less than 48 hours to ensure production and distribution ran smoothly.
Innovation was a major concept when working around the obstacles created by the pandemic, especially in the area of the distribution of the product. Amjad recognized the benefit of having numerous production and distribution chains throughout the country. This was beneficial especially when different chains were in containment zones; they were able to restructure distribution and maintain supply. Singh discussed the utilisation of new means of distribution methods, such as railways and waterways in response to the inactivity of highways. The food industry not only responded, but it changed because of COVID; as Singh stated, crisis make way for policy and structural change.
What is valued in nutrition and transparency has evolved, especially because the needs and wants of consumers are evolving. Furthermore, this is a continuous process that has responded to the change in values, need of the country and purpose of the companies. However, a large factor in consuming a product is for its taste; that is why customer trust is very important, because it allows we make sure we produce nutritious products; allowing consumers to focus on what they want. We can also see the need for the industry to respond and change over time, especially with the response to crises such as COVID; Further, making way for innovation and in time response. The food industry is a diverse, and large industry, and it continues to grow and evolve over time.
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