Global food retailers and manufacturers need to visibly lead the way in addressing consumers' fears and rebuilding public confidence in companies, president and CEO of Delhaize Group, Pierre-Oliver Beckers, warned this week.
Speaking to 640 delegates at the World Food Business Summit in Barcelona, Beckers said the food sector needed to work hard to communicate its positive role in social, economic and community life. "Otherwise worse will come," he said, referring to the public's distrust of business in the light of recent corporate and financial scandals and general economic uncertainty.
"In the past 18 months scepticism has reached unprecedented proportions," said Beckers. In a recent World Economic Foundation study, 34,000 consumers across 46 countries were asked to assess the level of trust they had in 17 institutions. Businesses were among the least trusted.
"We need to speak with a new vocabulary of reassurance and responsibility to assuage the sometimes irrational fears of the global community. This language must be spoken and the message delivered with confidence but not with complacency or defensiveness. The only way we can really do this is to embrace it with honesty and do what it takes to deliver," said Beckers.
At last year's summit in Atlanta, organiser CIES vowed to put together a programme to help grocery retailers improve the image of the sector. Beckers said a task force has been formed with the help of 14 companies such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Ahold and Marks and Spencer.
The focus of the programme will be the contribution of the food retail sector to the community.
"The image of food retail is poor in varying degrees according to the country and market in which supermarkets are an established form of commerce, but it is widespread," said Beckers. "And the problem is definitely one of poor image rather than of poor record."

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