In recent years food sector experienced an increasing number of food safety crises; many consumers are exposed to an information flux concerning food risk coming from several sources and amplified by an extensive media coverage. This is connected with a basic trend where safety and transparency are factors more and more important in determining food demand. During last decades of twentieth century, food consumer's attitude to search healthy foods (conscience that a better food can have positive effects on life quality) evolved into concern for food safety (conscience that food can be a source of damage to life quality).
It is nor surprising that risk analysis became a basic activity in the European agro-food complex and the main foundation of EU food policy. EU Commission recognizes risk communication as one of the fundamental tasks of European Food Safety Agency. However it is clear that, no matter how efficient the risk control and communication could be, it cannot work if it is not based on consumer's trust: trust emerges as a key factor for any communication program, both from firms and institutions.
Analyses carried on consumers panels in Italy confirm that, although we are not presently in an acute crisis of food risk perception (as in the recent BSE phobia) consumers are not completely reassured. Concern about some products, like meet or fruits & vegetables, is decreasing, but it is increasing for other products (like liquid milk and canned products) with continuing rebounds generating a state of creeping insecurity.
Consumer's risk sensation addresses in some way all the actors of the food chain: first of all agriculture, but also food industry and distribution. A well known and appreciated brand is not any more sufficient to be perceived as a guarantor: industry and retail brands are questioned, even in absence of a specific crisis, at the minimum media signal.
The result is a more sceptical attitude toward brand and producers control system: from a recent survey on consumers guarantee need for beef it results that over 70% of consumers would prefer standard controls carried by ASL (local sanitary authority) or NAS (police body in charge against food frauds), although only 5% would prefer self-control by producers, slaughtering industry or retailers.
The attention consumers are paying to quality and safety explains why the request of food information and education is the highest ranked item among factors determining attitude in purchasing. It results a consumer not well educated but conscious of its limits and more willing to assume with some responsibility the function of quality evaluator. It is a basic trend tested in studies on several products: even in presence of indicators of trust toward suppliers, consumers are no more available to give them an unconditioned mandate.
To face this problems by using a scientific approach, researchers of the UniversitÓ Cattolica del Sacro Cuore has constituted the FRICOM.
FRICOM merges the competences in communication, food and health and consumer behaviour of the UniversitÓ Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
The role of FRICOM is:
The aims are:
- Contributing scientific expertise on health and food safety matters and assisting in the identification of hazards.
- Providing advice on risk communication approaches and strategies, by studying consumer perception, communication methods and the assessment of communication effectiveness
The FRICOM network is composed by four reserch units
- Know the audience
- Provide expertise in communication (Expert advice on risk communication approaches and strategies)
- Studies of consumer perception or communication methods and the assessment of communication effectiveness.
- Involve the scientific experts on risk analysis (Contribute scientific expertise on health and food safety matters and assisting in the identification of hazards)
- Be a credible source of information
- Develop public participatory tools
- Educating the scientist to communicate risk issues
- Educating the consumers on issue of risk in the food chain
is coordinated by prof. Pier Sandro Cocconcelli