Food Safety in Asia

Liane Cresswell

In Asia, not a week goes by without another new food safety scandal making headlines, from contamination and food poisoning, to mislabeling and product recalls. Nine FleishmanHillard offices in APAC have been monitoring trends in the industry since the start of 2016 in order to better understand why these food safety issues seem to be increasing in frequency, as well as the impact heightened media scrutiny is having on food and beverage brands in the region.

So far, the research has shown that the largest proportion of food scandals in 2016 have involved the dairy industry, followed by confectionary and seafood, and the majority of these have related to contamination or product recall. Whilst local brands face the most criticism for their food safety record, international brands operating in the region also are receiving increased attention from both the media and regulators alike. We’ll be sharing more detailed findings later in the year, but our initial research has revealed three key industry trends that present both challenges and opportunities for PR professionals.

Increased Focus on Communicating Food Safety

Brands are placing greater importance on communicating food safety to customers. While Asian consumers have traditionally been less concerned about the origin/source of their food, this attitude is gradually changing, particularly as a result of a number of high-profile food scandals in recent years. Latest research shows that 80 percent of Chinese consumers are dissatisfied with food safety, with the majority blaming food companies for failing to address this issue. In particular, brands are increasingly focused on embedding a positive food safety culture across their business through internal communications and employee engagement.

Supply Chain and Traceability

Related to the above, we also are seeing increased interest in traceability of food products in Asia, particularly given the complexity of the supply chain. Most notably this is embodied in China’s new Food Safety Law (2015) which places obligations on producers, distributors and wholesale retailers to monitor and track food products across the supply chain. There is a particular focus on foreign businesses importing/distributing into Asia with increased regulatory scrutiny which brands must navigate and communicate to consumers and business partners.

Transparency and Accountability — and the Rise of CSR

Similar to other regions across the globe, APAC also is seeing greater focus on transparency and accountability, with brands increasingly turning to CSR and shared value initiatives to help address these concerns (still a relatively new concept in some Asian markets). Whilst the debate is less about ‘farm to fork’ in Asia, there is increased consumer interest in sustainability of supply chains and transparency of product labeling, which has led to heightened pressure on the food and beverage sector from NGOs and consumer groups (see latest WWF report on Asian brands).

Governments in Asia also are being bolder in taking action against the food and beverage sector to hold them accountable for wider societal issues; for example, following the recent introduction of a sugar tax in the U.K., a number of other Asian countries, including India and the Philippines, are now considering similar legislation to tackle Asia’s growing obesity epidemic. In response, both international and local brands are increasingly using CSR initiatives to promote their products in these markets.

Whether your company is based in Asia or sells product in this rapidly evolving market, watching and addressing these issues is key to maintaining trust with your customers and consumers. Our team welcomes the chance to share more about these and other issues and opportunities impacting the global food market.