Trusting Trust


Now that the UK is opening up again, it’s great to be able to get out to the high street and do some proper food shopping. The smell of fresh bread out of the oven sweeping over the counter, the freshly brewed coffee mixed with the buzz of chatter in a busy coffee shop blending with the scent of other customers’ sweet perfumes, the fruit and veg as if cut fresh that morning and just brought in off the field. Their absence from daily life over the last few months just heightens their impact. You just don’t get that visceral experience when clicking through your grocery list on an app. 


This is nothing new. Restaurants and supermarkets have been pumping smells into our retail environments for years. Alan Hirsch, Director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago explains“Unlike other senses, smell skips the rational filter in the brain. The olfactory system is a pure emotional sense”. These emotional ‘tricks’ are so strong they have the power to override our rational brain and entice us to buy a potentially unhealthy option even when we’re not hungry. 


Why have brands manufactured visual cues? Why do our senses need to be tricked to the extent where we can no longer differentiate between the real scent of what we are buying and the manufactured scent designed to trigger a decision to buy? 


Walking back onto the high street after such a hiatus focussed the attention on the ‘marks and badges’ stamped on all our products. Every product on the supermarket shelf is calling out for us to trust them. It is a barrage of visual noise screaming…. I’m certified organic, I’m Non-GMO, I’m MSC sustainable fishing, I’m dolphin free, I’m Fair Trade, I’m rainforest alliance, I’m UTZ certified, I’m demeter certified, I’m ECOCERT certified, I’m GI, I’m PDO, I’m PGI, I’m recyclable, I’m vegan, I’m carbon free. 


This avalanche of trust marks indicate brands are worried that consumer trust is eroding and they need to follow through on their word. Consumers aren’t buying the spin anymore. They need to see independently verified proof of impact.  


Earlier this week we had World Oceans Day and with the oceans under threat from over-fishing, plastic pollution and biodiversity depletion, we revisited the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy. The NGOs and experts quoted in the film say their comments have been taken out of context and that MSC and dolphin free ‘marks’ are genuine and do protect sea life, and the UN certainly agrees. 


Whether the documentary misrepresented the views of those interviewed or not, it does raise an important question around ‘trust’. Can we put our faith in trust labels, or is it a marketing distraction? A latest study has shown that 50% of US adults have become “green consumers,” with a third more consciously aware about the impact of climate change prior to the the pandemic. Ultimately the consumers will be the judge of authenticity and brands will have to earn that trust with transparency and consistency across their operations. One certified label is a step in the right direction.