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Inside Retail & Merieux NutriSciences

Consumer trust and food safety – more connected than ever

Much of the food industry rests on trust – a sense of safety and security that has to be present if a consumer is to dare take a bite of any manufacturer’s product. One of the roll-on effects of the pandemic has been to disturb that implicit trust, the willingness of consumers to suspend their sense of caution and presume that competent manufacturers will have taken all the proper care and provisions necessary to ensure their foods are completely uncontaminated. With the virus that stopped the world presumably being traced to improperly sourced meat, that willingness has been substantially impaired. An expanded awareness of the complexity and weaknesses of the global food supply chain has meant that the importance of rigorous testing and careful compliance with safety regulations has now become critical in securing the hard-won trust of the consumer.

“It’s no longer the government pushing the testing, it’s more the retailers,” observes Mark Dawson, microbiology technical director for Australia and China at Mérieux NutriSciences, which serves the food industry with a wide range of testing, tracing and compliance services. “They don’t want to be the contact that passes the consumer dud food, right? So they want to make sure that their suppliers are providing good safe food, and their immediate suppliers want to make sure that the raw materials that go into their products are suitable, and that goes all the way back to the original producers.”

With four laboratories in Australia and more than 100 international locations, Mérieux’s extensive network has the capacity to support food suppliers and manufacturers with virtually every test imaginable – and with dedicated people skilled at the logistics of getting samples to the most appropriate laboratory globally in cases where tests are unusual, the group is able to turn around results in very tight timeframes – of immense importance in certifying products with short shelf lives.

“The big push over the last 20 years has been to try and get the testing done as fast as possible to be able to release food that has been shown not to have pathogens present,” explains Dawson. “The longer that takes, the less shelf life you’ve got left on that food. So the emphasis has shifted to how can we make those confirmations quicker. When you’ve got a food with a shelf life of say 10 days, you can’t take four or five days out of that shelf life confirming whether it can be sold. So we’re now getting to the stage where confirmation procedures that used to take several days are being done either the same day or within a couple of days.”

The firm has been particularly attentive to consumer attitudes as shopping behaviours have evolved during the course of the pandemic. Mérieux’s national marketing manager Melissa Makris has observed broad changes in consumer patterns since the coronavirus outbreak, with buyers increasingly looking for reliability and security – and with foods being such an intimate and important part of our lives, consumers have placed a far greater focus on what they’re eating and feeding their loved ones.

“Where does it come from? How has it been made? What are the ingredients listed on the pack? And what does it do for me and my family? Will it keep us safe? There are questions being asked now as consumers look for products and brands that will deliver them health, protection against disease and illness, and support the local economy,” says Makris. “Consumers really want all the information on the products that they’re consuming, so they can make an educated decision on what’s right for them and their families. So if they feel a company isn’t being transparent with information such as the origins of the ingredients or production locations, additives, pesticides, or probiotic content claims, they’re losing trust in that brand. And they will seek out another.”

Beyond testing for contamination by pathogens, Mérieux also offers solutions to demonstrate food origin via blockchain and advanced gene sequencing methods, as well as label compliance solutions to help manufacturers stay on top of what may and may not be allowed to be claimed on product packaging. Manufacturers, suppliers and retailers using these solutions are finding themselves in a far better position to communicate confidently and transparently with consumers about the quality of their food – which goes a long way towards winning back trust in the current environment.

“Obviously, there’s an element of requirements in the industry that you have to do X, Y, and Z tests, to pass compliance,” comments Makris, “but we find a lot of our clients are truly wanting to ensure that their products are safe for their consumers, and they’re doing everything that they can. So whilst a lot of the tests and services that we offer are mandatory for customers to undertake, there are also tests over and above that, which clients often take on board just to emphasise the safety of their products or to understand the safety and know what to change to achieve the right standards. So there are two parts, an element of regulation and requirement, but also that real company culture that they’re in it for the right reasons, and they’re really just trying to make sure that their products are safe.”

Visit www.merieuxnutrisciences.com/au to learn more about how Mérieux NutriSciences can support your food business.