Knowledge Based Bio-Economy

Clarity in consumer communications

Faced with vast and increasing amounts of food and diet-related stories in the press and media, consumers can be forgiven for finding it difficult to make informed choices about what they and their families eat. This is particularly important when "food crises' arise – such as the recent horsemeat "scandal' – shoppers expect accessible, complete and precise information on the risks and benefits they face from supermarket shelves.

The just-completed FoodRisC project addressed this "information overload' through developing online tools to help food communicators reach out to the general public with messages offering clarity, comfort and choice.

At the heart of FoodRisc's work is an e-resource – an innovative online communications toolkit called the FoodRisC Resource Centre. Its six sections offer guides to evaluating the situation, understanding the audience, creating the message, selecting transmission channels, monitoring communications and public involvement. The FoodRisC Resource Centre also gives unique insights through a series of case studies, including the recent horsemeat scandal, the 2011 E.coli outbreak in Germany and the 2008 dioxin crisis in Ireland, among others.

The project's work is aimed at policy makers, food authorities, the food industry, nutritionists, health professionals and others involved in food communication. Research looked into the rising importance of social media and how it differs from traditional channels, the need to address journalists in communications strategies, and the monitoring of social media to provide insights into perceptions. In addition, members of the consortium also developed the VIZZATA online deliberation and engagement tool, which allows authorities to get very rapid consumer feedback and views on developing food-related issues, in particular on any questions they have.

The three-and-a-half year FoodRisC project held its final conference on 12 September 2013, where the project leader Patrick Wall, from University College Dublin told the audience: "It is great to see researchers, regulators and the professional communicators interacting together as risk and benefit communication is challenging, with rapidly evolving media channels and an increasingly diverse consumer base. It is only if everybody works together that we can build trust and consistency in how we address the public's concerns on food issues."