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Lost Trust: Salvaging the Food Industry’s Intangible Asset

Trust is every organization’s most valuable intangible asset.

Consider that between 1995 and 2015, the share of intangible asset market value increased from 68 percent to 84 percent, and that trend accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic with intangible assets now commanding over 90 percent of the S&P500 market value, according to Ocean Tomo research.

Also consider that trust in society’s institutions continues to shift. No real surprise given recent history.

Skyrocketing food prices, war, political divisiveness, fallout from the pandemic and economic turmoil continue to upend trust, as we see in the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Trust has eroded for government and media, according to the report, putting businesses in the trust spotlight. In fact, business holds a 54-point lead over government in competence and 30 points in ethics. “Business is the sole institution seen as competent and ethical,” said Edelman CEO Richard Edelman.

The challenge of protecting trust as an asset is growing as employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders are increasingly looking to companies to play a larger role in social and political issues ranging from racial equity and voting rights to climate change, livable wages and animal welfare.

Securing trust is a challenge in a world where many struggle to deal with economic, technological and demographic disruption and are influenced by increased polarization, and siloed information – and misinformation – that fuels distrust and social volatility.

Engaged and motivated stakeholders championing causes are leveraging their momentum to connect with others who share their passion and express demands to pressure the market to achieve their social objectives.

For the food system, engaging with consumers in this cynical and highly charged environment is difficult – but more important than ever.

As one analysis from Axios concluded, “The scarcest resource in the decades ahead won’t be oil or rare earth metals, but social trust.”

So how is it earned?

Food producers, processors and retailers have a unique opportunity to build trust in the food system. By engaging directly with consumers, stakeholders can demonstrate they share the same values for doing what’s best for people, the planet and animals.

It’s not about inundating consumers with facts and science alone. That’s not effective and may, in fact, be off-putting, according to The Center for Food Integrity trust model, which shows that shared values are three to five times more important to earning trust.

Particularly, in this volatile time, consumers simply want assurances that you’re doing the right things for the right reasons – that it’s not just about profit.

How can you demonstrate priorities that matter to the public today: ensuring we have safe, abundant food, being good stewards of our natural resources, adhering to the highest standards of animal care, taking the best care of employees, fostering diversity and inclusion, and sourcing with integrity?

They want proof and the messages must be communicated early and often – and long-term. Effective engagement isn’t a quick fix.

To that end, CFI offers specialized training programs to equip food and agriculture stakeholders with the tools to effectively engage using the power of shared values. For example, we’ve conducted our Engage training around the globe for businesses and organizations – tailoring curriculum to topics most important to them.

Training sessions are available in-person and virtually. Full sessions can be presented as stand-alone events or as part of a conference. Virtual lunch-and-learn programs can be an introduction or refresher on how to communicate with consumers in ways that earn trust.

Media, social media and earning trust in Gen Z, gene editing and broader ag and food technology training are also available.

It’s one way the food system can maintain and protect its most intangible asset. We’re happy to help. To schedule an Engage training or learn more, connect with us at