Research conducted at Iowa State University shows that when consumers receive conflicting information about a food product, they tend to believe the negative. And, it influences their purchasing decisions.

That means, as members of the food value chain, we face an uphill battle in educating today’s consumers about the food products we produce.

The Iowa State research was the first controlled experiment that looked at what happens when consumers receive both positive and negative information about a food product at the same time. The researchers used two recent controversies — irradiation and genetic modification — in their research. What they found was that when consumers received conflicting information at the same time, consumers tended to believe the negative. Even if the negative information came from a consumer advocacy group, and the positive information came from a scientific journal, consumers still tended to make purchasing decisions based on that negative information.

As expected, when consumers received negative information only, they generally did not buy the products. However, when consumers received positive information about a food product, they more often than not bought the product. That’s where you come in.

You never know when the opportunity will arise to educate someone. That means you need to understand not only your role in the food value chain, but also the issues of food safety and new food processing technologies. Whether talking to a visitor on your dairy or the person sitting next to you on a long flight, the opportunity often arises to deliver a positive message for the dairy industry or to clear up a misperception that people may have. When that chance arises, you need to be prepared.

Just the other day in the grocery store, a fellow shopper asked why I wasn’t purchasing BST-free milk. That became the teachable moment, and a chance to dispel some of the negative things that he had heard and believed about milk.

It’s opportunities like these that everyone in the dairy industry should be prepared to take advantage of. And, by the way, that fellow shopper left with the same brand of milk that I was buying.

Arm yourself with information. You never know when you’ll get the chance to educate a consumer.