What are Canadians’ top food priorities?

At look at CCFI's latest Public Trust research results.
Ashley Bruner
February 22, 2019
By Ashley Bruner
What are Canadians’ top food priorities?
Photo: Adobe Stock
If you relied on Canadian media and politicians alone, you might think topics like the economy and health care were what Canadians cared about most. You would be wrong. Canadians’ top priority is much more fundamental than that – before they can worry about hospital wait times or the cost to heat their homes this winter, they first and foremost need healthy, affordable food to eat and feed their families.

Canadians have rated the rising cost of food and keeping healthy food affordable as their top priorities three years in a row. These findings from the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) annual public trust research provides valuable information for all food system stakeholders, including poultry farmers, when it comes to engaging on topics that matter most to consumers.

What are you doing that helps contribute to healthy, affordable food for Canadians? Are you communicating your efforts with that lens on?

Food matters to Canadians, but how does the average Canadian perceive their country’s food system?  This year, we saw a significant decrease on some key measures when it comes to public trust in the food system.

Only a third (36 per cent) of Canadians think the food system is headed in the right direction compared to four in 10 last year (43 per cent).

Along with this decrease, the proportion who feel the food system is on the wrong track increased a significant nine points and is back to 2016 levels (23 per cent).

The overall impression of agriculture in Canada also decreased for the first time in 12 years – falling from 61 per cent in 2016 to 56 per cent in our latest survey. This follows a steady increase since 2006. The decline in positive impressions is driven by a significant increase in Canadians who say they don’t know enough to have an opinion (12 per cent up from two per cent in 2016).

While several years of data is required to indicate a truly negative trend, the erosion of perceptions should serve as a rally cry to food system leaders and a reminder of the CCFI mandate: “Helping the food system earn trust.” Trust and public goodwill cannot be taken for granted and can erode without long-term engagement and effort.

One way to better earn public trust is through transparency. In 2017, CCFI research focused on transparency and what it takes to achieve it to increase trust.  In 2018, we asked Canadians how well different segments are doing in providing open and transparent information about how their food is grown or produced so they can make informed food choices.

Unfortunately, ratings across all groups are low, with farmers getting the highest rating at only 34 per cent getting an 80 per cent or higher. Like many topics, numerous Canadians are unsure with 58 to 65 per cent being neutral.

This report card clearly shows that while there are many great efforts underway to be transparent and share the story of our food in Canada, the collective impact is not being perceived as enough or reaching consumers yet.

Food industries need to take targeted efforts to specific audiences to increase share of voice using new approaches to help improve this transparency report card in the future.

This research demonstrates that the food system can’t take trust for granted – it must be earned. Canadians desire balanced, credible information about food so they can feel confident in their decisions for themselves and their families. It’s up to the entire food chain to turn up the volume and efforts to openly share information about food and how it’s produced, processed and packaged with consumers.

Food loss and waste
Food loss and waste has significant environmental, economic and social consequences. This waste leads to increased disposal costs, produces greenhouse gases throughout the food value chain, and costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars. Despite the large amount of food waste in Canada, there are still many people who are struggling daily with food insecurity.

This year, CCFI asked Canadians directly how they felt about this issue, where they fit into the problem, and what they thought could help them reduce their household’s food waste.

Like many issues, all the key food system stakeholders are viewed as responsible when it comes to reducing food loss and waste.

What is different than other issues? The public accepts accountability, with 69 per cent of respondants saying consumers like themselves are responsible for reducing food loss and waste in Canada.

The main causes of household food loss and waste in Canada are throwing out leftovers, having food reach its “best before date”, and buying too much food.  Seven in 10 Canadians say they are looking for tips to reduce food waste and CCFI answered that call.

Check out bestfoodfacts.org to read recent articles about reducing household food waste. Use this yourself or share with others while illustrating that reducing food waste will help save money in the long run.  This ties back to what is most important to Canadians –the cost of food.

Public Trust Research
The 2018 Public Trust Research is a unique combination of building on trend and benchmark data. It’s a responding to emerging food system issues and using innovative methodologies to find new insights that inform efforts to earn trust more effectively.  The 2018 web-based survey was completed from July 13-19, 2018 by 1,509 respondents who reflect the general Canadian consumer population aged 18 or older.

Interested in learning more?

Download the CCFI Public Trust Research reports and listen to webinars about this research, transparency, millennials and more at www.foodintegrity.ca

Ashley Bruner is research co-ordinator with the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, an organization dedicated to helping Canada’s food system earn public trust. Visit foodintegrity.ca for more information.

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