Probiotics, hemp, upcycling – we’re witnessing a food tech boom. Developing a useful and profitable technology is the foundation for the future of food. But any new technology needs consumer buy-in to become widespread and viable. Effective and transparent communication can help people feel more comfortable with new food technology and allow start-ups to expand without facing constant consumer backlash.
I’ve helped develop communications for several controversial food technologies and seen consumer rejection firsthand. Genetic modification is one of the most beneficial food production technologies, but also hated (and misunderstood) by a vocal group of consumers. What could have been done to secure consumer confidence from the start?
Determine who you’re actually communicating to
Developing a new farm animal imagining and diagnostics technology? You probably considered talking to farmers. But think about all the other parties potentially interested in your technology. For example, veterinarians have a lot of influence when it comes to farm animal health. Regarding the non-agriculture consumer, think about the diverse audiences they trust. Teens will be a lot more likely to try a new protein-enhanced insect snack if their favorite YouTuber was snacking during a video. Those influential people are important communication audiences.
Action item: Utilize social platforms and online research to create a list of ten influencers your end-consumer is likely to trust.
Find out what’s important
The complex technology behind many food start-ups can be off-putting and downright frightening to the non-science public. People are more accepting of things they can understand. Individuals are more likely to understand something if it complements their values. Find out what’s important to them and hammer those messages home. Once you find common-values with your consumer, they’ll be a lot more likely to accept the aspects of your product they don’t understand.
Action item: Conduct a survey, or focus group, to determine the top three attributes your consumer values about your food product or technology.
Focus communication on what your audience values, but don’t hide the rest. After building a strong foundation using influential stakeholders and shared values, consumers will still have questions. Answer honestly and understandably. Work with a communicator who has experience in science and technology to break down complicated topics and share complex information. Most of the time controversy stems from a lack of transparency. There’s not much that erodes trust faster than the perception that you’re hiding something.
Action item: Identify a science communicator in your network and work to develop key messages for complex topics.
Read more about other ways to communicate complicated information:
- The key to successfully communicating risk
- Segmenting audiences for more effective communication
- Communicating controversial topics
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