Public trust among millennials

Ashley Bruner
September 14, 2018
By Ashley Bruner
Sometimes trends are not worth the hype. I’m sure we all have at least one picture lying around with an outfit we thought was classic but is now horribly outdated.
In today’s age of ever-evolving food trends, from cronuts to charcoal ice cream, it can be hard to know what trends are fleeting and which ones will stand the test of time.

At the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) we have been studying one of today’s most trendy segments in research – millennials.

Millennials are more than a catchy term for Generation Y or 18 to 34-year olds. They are a group with growing influence on the Canadian food system. According to Statistics Canada, millennials now represent the largest generation in the workforce and will continue to increase as older generations retire.

This means that millennials will increasingly be the decision makers and hold key positions throughout the agri-food chain.

Not only will millennials be the dominate demographic in the workforce, but the marketplace as well. Millennials will be the largest demographic buying weekly groceries, going to restaurants and making food-related decisions for their growing families over the next 30 years. Thus, what they think about the food system matters.

CCFI’s 2017 Public Trust research revealed that food issues are front of mind among millennials.The rising cost of food and keeping healthy food affordable are their top two life issues, followed by their financial situation, climate change, and rising energy costs.  

Despite citing food issues among their top concerns, the age group is not actively engaging on key food system topics like food safety, humane treatment of animals and innovative approaches to growing food. In fact, over four in 10 say they only think about these topics if they are in the media or they’re forced to.

Who do millennials think should be providing information on the food they eat since they themselves are not actively seeking it out? Our research shows that nearly two-thirds feel Canada’s farmers should be providing this type of information, so it’s time for our farmers to answer this call to action.  

Young farmers are well positioned to speak to their peers on this issue.

Our research provides some insights on how best to talk to them, starting with where to have these conversations in the first place.

The best place to engage with millennials is online – the top source of information on food system issues for this group.

A perceived lack of transparency and information is commonly cited by millennials with moderate-to-low trust ratings (rating of four-to-seven out of 10) for Canadian farmers, the way they grow our food and the information they provide. To address this concern, outreach must be loud, clear and credible.  

Two areas this generation feels farmers are most responsible for providing transparent information on is the impact of food production on the environment and the treatment of animals raised for food, followed by food safety and business ethics in food production. When engaging, farmers should address these issues directly. This needs to be authentic – which includes admitting areas where improvement is needed or problems exist.  

The importance of building trust in our food system will outlast any trendy diet or food craze in the long term. Millennials care about food issues but are not proactively engaged with them. This means you must get their attention first, then turn up the volume for sharing clear and credible information on food. Young farmers can definitely lead the charge connecting with their peers through their social media channels and putting themselves outside their normal circle of others in the industry.

Interested in learning more?
Download the CCFI Public Trust Research reports or listen to a webinar about millennials and trust in the food system at Also, join us at the CCFI Public Trust Summit in Gatineau, Que., on November 13-14 as we turn these research insights into actions.  

CCFI welcomes new face
Ashley Bruner recently joined CCFI as a research co-ordinator and is excited to bring her market research and public policy experience to the team. For the past six years, she has worked at Ipsos Public Affairs, managing hundreds of research projects with diverse methodologies for a variety of clients in the public, private and non-profit sectors. She is now converting CCFI research findings into actionable insights to help the food system earn trust.    

What makes food news and information credible to consumers?
When it comes to credible food news and information, truth is relative, according to new U.S.-based research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI). The study identified five consumer segments, how each defines truth and how food news and information move through culture. It provides the food and agriculture industries insights into which segments are driving food trends and how – and where – to connect with them to earn trust.

“In its first-of-its-kind research, we used an innovative approach called digital ethnograpy to determine what constitutes ‘truth’ and why certain ideas get fleeting mentions while others turn into meaningful food movements” said CFI CEO Charlie Arnot in a press release.

Through digital ethnography, CFI observed 8,500 consumers online across multiple social channels. Going back two years, the study forensically examined their behaviours, identifying beliefs, values, fears and unspoken motivations when it comes to food information.

“It’s like following digital breadcrumbs that leave a trail showing what consumers actually do, not just what they say they do,” Arnot said. “Results revealed that truth isn’t black and white in the minds of consumers.”

Credibility of information is tied to each segment’s relationship to truth. It spans a spectrum ranging from the Scientific, who defines truth as objective, evidence-based science, to the Existentialist who defines it as “what feels true.”

The Scientifics have difficulty relating to mainstream consumers so their influence extends only as far as the next segment, the Philospher, who takes the evidence-based science, simplifies it and filters it through an ethical lens.

“It’s the ethics, or in other words the values, around the issue that provide meaning to the Philospher, who wants to be on the right side of morality when it comes to people, animals, the planet and more,” Arnot said.

The Philosopher has significant influence on the middle, and largest consumer segment, the Follower. Representing 39 per cent of the population, Followers fears making the wrong decision for themselves and their families when it comes to food. They want clear, unambiguous answers to their questions, and assurances that they’re doing the right thing, which Philophers provide. More importantly, they value relatable, trusted sources. That’s where shared values, or the ethics, that drive our beliefs, decisions and opinions are critical, Arnot said. “Communicating with values that others share, or can relate to, is the key to earning trust.”

Learn more at

Ashley Bruner is research co-ordinator with the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity. For Canadian consumer insights on public trust in food and farming, visit

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