By: Leslie G. Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing Institute 


“Transparency” has become a buzz word very much in vogue these days and honestly, I have a number of issues with it. First, I think it’s tremendously overused and woefully misused when dished up as a rather glib solution to almost every concern. Second, and related to the first point, I don’t think most people really know what they mean when they use it.

In all candor, I don’t believe most people crave full transparency from others. That would entail sorting through the unadulterated and complete disclosure of ALL details, leaving nothing to the imagination. I know I don’t really want complete transparency; in fact I take more issue with the oversharing that occurs today -- what the kids used to call, providing TMI (too much information). I don’t really need to know more of each individual’s intimate details about their lives, their desires, and their opinions. I don’t crave transparency if it means, among other things, inundating me with information I don’t really care about and revealing details I’m better off not knowing. The very notion of transparency connotes no filters, no restrictions and no limits, and in this day and age of information overload, I find it difficult to believe that any of us wants unfettered transparency from anybody or any company. Simply put, that would be TMI.

What I think we do want is an honest and clear presentation of the information WE choose to know. I contend that rather than true transparency, what we really want is access to the information filtered in accord with our desires and conveyed by a trustworthy source.

Having said all that, I certainly understand the current enchantment with the concept of transparency. I understand the desire for facts not distorted by spin or artfully hidden somewhere between innuendo and insinuation. I just don’t believe we want to be exposed to all information and that, in my estimation, simultaneously renders transparency as an oversimplified, fantasy-filled desire for unencumbered access to the truth; that– when you really look at it – is an impractical remedy. 

What we need is practical, targeted clarity, which necessitates taking the time to find out what people want to know and then presenting it to them with lucid integrity. It’s with this notion that the 2017 edition of FMI’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends will focus on transparency, both defining this maligned concept and getting our arms around the good it calls for while approaching it realistically and with frugal practicality.  We will explore what consumers really want to know so we don’t waste our time and theirs sharing information that doesn’t interest them. We will focus our energy on being clear in sharing intelligence about those things our shoppers want to know about the food we sell.

And I must say, I am very excited about what this research is turning up.  I will present the findings of the 2017 edition of U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends at the Future Leaders eXperience in June and I look forward to engaging these young industry leaders in a conversation about approaching transparency in a practical way. It will have profound implications for our trading partner relationships and building trusting relationships with our shoppers. 

Photo Credit: Flickr, Darren Kirby