Transparency Issues

We're coming to know our food better now than at any other time in history. From produce sourcing to ingredient-level tracking to new labeling standards that are trying to simplify consumer understanding of where their food comes from, the solutions to the issue of food opacity are growing in number and ubiquity. I recently participated on a panel about investing in food startups where the question was raised about the efficacy and impact of food transparency. While it's seen as a net positive, and I'm not one to ever advocate for less transparency, I will venture that the current state of food transparency is very much where Big Data was a few years ago (and where some of it remains): that is, we've created a surfeit of information for consumers to digest, but many will not have the right context or understanding to parse all the data that transparency is providing. 

I could point to nutrition labeling as a really simple example of this problem. Nutrition labels have received an overhaul, in part to respond to the criticism that average consumers cannot properly utilize the information in their daily lives. Another example can be seen in manufacturers labeling their water as "gluten-free" (while this isn't specifically a transparency issue, it is an issue of abusive labeling to drive sales). 

A logical next step for transparency on a consumer level could be to look at the consumer education side of the business. Fairly unsexy and mired by so many failed previous attempts, there hasn't been a ton of investment in pure-play consumer education platforms for food. In their place, we've given rise to "short-cut" information and influencer networks that tell consumers what or how to eat, without necessarily telling them why. 

If we are going to force more data into the market at the food purchase level, there's an opportunity to pair that with greater "information transparency" as well. What do our labels tell us? What does the data actually mean? And what impact does that have on the individual level.

I realize that food transparency has significant impact on B2B systems, and can be applied towards preemptive action for issues of food safety and security. Those uses are for the public good. I see an opportunity to take more of that ethos and put it towards how we allow consumers to unlock the data inherent in their food, and in the process, make them better participants in the food system.