Although sustainability is increasingly higher on the agenda of all food producers in the Netherlands, roundtable discussions with managers show that in reality, sustainability is still often seen as a project, rather than a structural change in the process.
The brakes can be taken off; the food and agri sector can show more of itself
Consumers’ expectations are exceeded when it comes to the innovative strength of Dutch food and agribusinesses. This is evident from the Authenticity Gap research presented by Omnicom PR Group (OPRG) among approximately 1,000 well-informed Dutch consumers. In this survey, consumers are asked about their expectations of organisations and their actual experiences with companies in the Food & Beverage and agribusiness sectors. The difference between these two is called an ‘authenticity gap’.
In the study, consumers were asked about their expectations of and experiences with various companies across the Dutch food chain, including animal feed, agricultural wholesalers, meat producers, dairy producers, food manufacturers and beer brewers. When it comes to innovation, Dutch food & beverage companies score very well. There is a wide positive gap of 7.9% (2018: 4.7%); the experiences therefore far exceed consumers’ expectations. This is also the highest (positive) score on innovation among the ten industries surveyed in the study. The agricultural sector also scores positively on innovation at 1.8%, albeit a lot lower.
Food and agribusiness: show up
According to OPRG’s Jeannot Waaifoort, Business Director & Partner, the results of the study can be a stimulus for communicating more clearly about how our food is produced:
“We often still see some reluctance among Dutch food and agribusiness companies to show how food is prepared in volume production. That is not surprising, since food production – from raw to presentable product – can look quite confrontational. Think for example of meat products, soups and sauces. But the fact that Dutch consumers assess the innovative power of these companies positively means that they can and should show themselves a little more. By explaining and communicating transparently about the production process, food and agribusinesses can actually inspire more confidence among consumers and play a more active role in society. Consumers can handle a look behind the scenes of this industry,” says Waaifoort.
More community involvement expected
This role in society is precisely where the sector currently scores less well. In particular, Dutch consumers’ experiences of the F&B sector in this area, at -7.3%*, are significantly lower than their expectations. In 2018, this score was still +4.4%. The gap between expectations and experiences has thus grown in a negative sense; expectations have risen much faster than the actual performance shown by companies in the sector. By communicating more transparently about their production methods and their role in the Dutch food supply, Dutch consumers could experience these companies as more involved. Our food plays a primary role in society in terms of health, budget, environmental impact and sociability. Relative secrecy is not appropriate; on the contrary, the Netherlands should be invited to the kitchen table of these companies.
More communication on environmental efforts
There are also still higher expectations of companies in terms of environmental efforts. A negative trend is particularly noticeable in the agricultural sector, where this industry still scored +4.5% on environmental efforts in 2018, but -4.1% in 2021. This can be explained by the fact that the image of the agribusiness in the media has not always been very positive in recent years. Think for example of the nitrogen tax, farmers’ protests and impact on biodiversity. This sentiment may have contributed to the fact that agribusinesses are not meeting consumers’ expectations in this respect.
In terms of communication, it is advisable to pay more attention to environmental efforts, as ‘caring for the environment’ is the most important driver for the reputation of the agribusiness for respondents. Agribusinesses could show more what they do and mean in concrete terms for the environment. Talking transparently about sustainability reduces the distance between consumers and these companies, which can contribute to expectations and experiences being less far apart in the future.
Actions as a result of the study
The Authenticity Gap research will be repeated every two years to ensure ongoing knowledge of the sector reputation. OPRG consultants will approach the brands that were surveyed with the results and keep them informed of future results.
*A gap is significant in the study if it is 2% or more.
Would you like to know more about the Authenticity Gap study? Please contact:
Jeannot Waaifoort, Business Director & Partner Omnicom PR Group
When it comes to sustainability, politicians are placing increasing demands on companies. Various existing EU directives already require large companies to disclose information about the way they work and deal with ecological challenges. But the Dutch political sector is demanding more and more from companies in this area.