Transparency in the food supply chain

Creating transparency in the food supply chain is nothing new, but it has now become inevitable thanks to rapidly growing consumer pressure.

Today, consumers want to know exactly where food products come from: 94% believe that transparency fosters brand loyalty, 81% are willing to try a brand’s entire portfolio of products if it offers transparency, and 57% check a label to see the provenance of their groceries.

Translating this consumer behaviour from retail to foodservice, this is excellent news for restaurant businesses. There are huge commercial benefits to be gained through transparent food sourcing and messaging, with the chance to create authentic stories around ingredients mentioned in menus and hence build trust among customers.

What makes this even more encouraging is the fact that a host of new services is springing up to meet transparency expectations in the food industry. 

The foodservice industry is changing

The farm to fork concept sounds like basic common sense, but why did it take so long to become mainstream? Although transparency is expected from food businesses, there are challenges to getting there. For one, the food supply chain is traditionally made up of many different steps, making traceability difficult. These are:

  1. Sourcing of raw materials
  2. Production
  3. Processing and packaging
  4. Storage
  5. Wholesale distribution
  6. Retail/catering redistribution to consumers


Additionally, there has also been a lack of technology to track the food product journey, and players in the food supply chain have been slow to recognise the need for change. Surprisingly, the traditional wholesaler model has not been challenged for 50 years. 

This is evinced by the fact that the big companies that monopolise the food supply sector today were actually founded decades ago, before the internet was invented, showing that food supply is a sector ready for disruption.

There are real negative consequences to such opacity in the food supply chain. In February last year, the meat supplier Russell Hume went into administration after the Food Standard Agency (FSA) found “serious non-compliance with food hygiene regulations”. 

Russell Hume had been supplying nationwide brands such as Wetherspoons and the now defunct Jamie Oliver’s Italian: a clear example of how widespread unethical practices in food sourcing are. There are many more examples of this.

On the 20th October 2019, CNBC revealed that Amazon customers reported receiving expired food through their online orders, including baby formula, coffee creamer, beef jerky and granola bars, to name a few.

The article states that expired food is regularly sold to consumers via third-party vendors due to loopholes in Amazon’s technology and logistics system, in a complex infrastructure where neither the vendors nor the platform take accountability.

The horse meat scandal of 2013 also comes to mind when thinking of food supply chain disasters that have really let consumers down, again brought about by opaque stages in the journey of food to plate.

Consumers are in the driver’s seat

It’s no surprise that consumers are outraged by incidences like these. A huge part of the move towards a transparent food supply chain is driven by consumers who, thanks to modern technology, now have greater access to information than ever before, and are using that knowledge to make informed decisions on the products they buy.

According to Label Insight, 91% of customers verify information for themselves when a brand claims to be “healthy” or “nutritious”.

Whether for health reasons, allergies, ethics or personal choice, the public have become more engaged with the food they consume and restaurants/foodservice businesses are expected to provide more information about the products they sell. 

Where does this leave foodservice businesses?

Foodservice businesses are right in expecting greater profitable revenue when they are transparent with their consumers. Customers want to know more about food provenance and traceability.

They are interested in who produced the food, and how; back stories behind the producers provide positive contexts that consumers can engage with. 

They also want to know that they are supporting ethical businesses, understanding what the honest cost of food is (such as clarity on how much people working at the different stages of the supply chain actually get paid). The more honest the business, the more successful the brand. 

Transparency success stories

There are plenty of case studies to back this up. The London chain Cocotte Rotisserie proudly shares information with their customers about the source of their high quality yet affordable chicken. 

Their menu states: “Cocotte is a farm to table chicken rotisserie serving healthy, homemade dishes made from fresh, farm grown ingredients. All our free-range chickens are sourced from Evron in the Loire Valley of France.”

Cocotte’s owner, Romain Bourrillon, says: “I believe that people are more and more careful about what they eat. We want to create trust with our customers so they know they always find a good quality product with us, plus offering full traceability makes a big difference compared to our competitors.”

So too have the French, family-run poultry farms who supply Cocotte benefitted from this transparency. “Receiving positive feedback from Cocotte on the products we supply them with is fantastic.” says Tom Davison, representative of the “Nature and Respect” farming group in the  UK, “It reinforces our belief that our product is high quality, and gives us great pride in the work we are doing.”

By Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi

Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi is the CEO of Collectiv Food

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