Agri-supply companies should engage with consumers more, two of the speakers at the AIC conference told the audience.
Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of the IGD, and Clive Black of Shore Capital both stressed the need for constant dialogue, as traceability and transparency move up the shopper's agenda.
"It's important to learn from past mistakes," said Mr Black. "The farming industry must be prepared to speak out, even when things are going well."
The introduction of new technologies can be done by spelling out the benefits and keeping the message simple, he added. "Consumers aren't unreasonable. But farming operates in different circles and the power is shifting away from the retailers to the producers. So the supply chain must engage in a constructive and imaginative way."
Consumer attitudes to GM
- IGD has been tracking consumer attitudes to GM since the mid 90s.
- Today, just 13% strongly oppose GM, although only 3% are strongly in favour. Some 51% say they neither support nor oppose GM foods.
- Only one in five shoppers claims to have a good knowledge of GM. That's better than four years ago, when just one in seven felt well-informed.
Mrs Denney-Finch agreed. "Have faith in consumers to make sound choices. Listen carefully, respond attentively, act transparently and provide the information they need."
Consumers have been on a roller coaster ride in the last few years, she added. "They're coming to terms with being poorer than they thought they were. The economy has left its mark and there's been a 4% drop in the volume of grocery sales."
Despite this, more than eight in ten shoppers say that the way their food is produced is at least fairly important to them. Over seven in 10 rate the environmental impact of their food.
"Perhaps the most relevant statistic for the agri-supply industry is that four in ten British shoppers would buy only fully traceable food if they could."
Supporting traceability is important, she suggested. "The supply industry can supply equipment or systems to capture this information on farm. Or it can promote the provenance of a crop or an environmental farming technique."
More on this topic
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Also at the AIC conference Giles Oldroyd, of the John Innes Centre, told delegates about work on transferring genes from legumes and oats into wheat crops to improve yields.