A new report says Canadians have more confidence than ever in the food system, but concerns remain over rising costs.
In its 2020 Public Trust Research Report, Trends in Trust and the Path Forward, the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity reported that 47 per cent of those surveyed said they were confident in the overall direction of the food system, a 12-point increase compared to 2019.
Why it matters: Long-term consumer trends have shown up, but the pandemic could alter some of them, with effects on farm product demand.
“I don’t have any data on this, but I would think the reason for this is because of COVID,” said John Jamieson, president and chief executive officer of CCFI. “COVID highlights, really what’s important to us and food is certainly one of the basics that we have to be thinking about.”
Market shocks from COVID-19, including the closure of restaurants and major event venues had major effects on the food supply chain.
There were some temporary shortages as food processors had to alter their production systems to meet the new reality of greater demand through grocery stores.
That resulted in some dumping of food such as vegetables and milk and there were concerns that the optics of the food being wasted would result in negative publicity for agriculture.
However, the CCFI survey shows it looks like the public appreciated the efforts of the food system, instead of being critical of it.
The response of Canada’s food system to COVID-19 was praised by consumers in the survey, with 87 per cent saying they trust the food system will ensure the availability of healthy food for Canadians.
“Certainly, there was a change and the experience of Canadians when they go to the grocery store,” Jamieson said.
“And I think the way the food system in Canada was able to pivot, adapt, and being able to maintain a food supply during COVID, I think that has warmed the hearts of Canadians and made them feel that our food system is heading in the right direction.”
With the pandemic continuing to dull economic fortunes, the CCFI said Canadians are most concerned about the cost of food: 51 per cent of Canadians said they have less money to spend on food, as a direct result of the pandemic.
Those surveyed had a list of issues that could be potential concerns, including health-care costs, the state of the economy and climate change.
Production practices continue to create questions
Overall, about two out of every three respondents said they have a positive impression of agriculture and how it’s managed in Canada. However, they remain concerned over the use of pesticides, GMOs, animal welfare and limiting food waste.
“That’s important to know when communicating to Canadians,” Jamieson said.
“(Consumers) seem to be open and receptive right now to what we’re doing. And it’s not just a one-way conversation, either. It’s looking at what Canadians want to know, and how we (can) be transparent about what we do.”
Jamieson said despite science being on the side of producers when it comes to these issues, “a lot of what we do and read is driven by emotion.
“We need to continue to talk about how we’re continuously working toward, you know, having a lower environmental footprint or, or improved animal welfare, or, whatever. And we also know from this … survey that you need to communicate your sustainability plans.”
Sustainability plans are not an option
The CCFI found that notions of sustainability in food are not a trend, but a requirement for success. Forty-five per cent of respondents said sustainability refers to food options and production practices that address climate change and have a positive impact on the environment.
“If you’re not communicating what you’re doing around sustainability… you’re really not going to be in the game,” Jamieson said. “That’s just a foundational piece of being in the food system.”
The CCFI survey showed that consumers are making choices based on packaging and sustainability, with 40 per cent of respondents saying sometimes and seven per cent saying they always seek out items with minimal impact on the environment. Forty-five per cent say they sometimes and 10 per cent say they always pick out grocery store items with less packaging.
This is the fifth year the CCFI has done research into public trust of Canadian food, with 2,903 Canadians sampled this year.