It seems that the word of the month around The National Provisioner, as well as around my own business travels, is “trust.”

Our cover story this month tells the story of Maple Leaf Foods’ three-year rebound and internal renaissance in the realm of food safety — a transformation the company had to make in order to eventually restore Canadian consumer trust in their brands after the deadly August 2008 listeriosis outbreak that was linked to their products.

Maple Leaf, in my opinion, handled the situation correctly from the start — with president and CEO Michael McCain announcing that the company would accept responsibility for the tragedy, commit to changing their approach accordingly and then keep the public informed as to how they were preventing tragedy from occurring again.

On, we just posted a new episode in our Business Strategies series by Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity and president of CMA, titled, “Building and protecting your most valuable asset: Trust.”

Furthermore, Arnot and Janet Riley, senior vice president, Public Affairs and Member Services for AMI, presented sessions on building consumer trust and consumer perception, respectively, at the American Meat Science Association’s (AMSA) Reciprocal Meat Conference at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., this past month.

We in the media are no strangers to the importance of trust — however, in trade publishing, we’re not trying to build trust among the general public. In order to bring the best information, analysis and news to the protein-processing industry and other interested parties, it is up to our editors to earn the trust and respect of processors, academics, suppliers, consultants, etc.

Our goals may be different than those of the meat industry — but the vehicles by which we earn that trust are not all that dissimilar. We strive to be honest, fair, straightforward and, most importantly, great listeners and learners.

Protein processors need to do the same with their consumers. Engage them, but then listen and learn from them what they want in their products, what they want from you and how you can get that to them in a satisfactory way.

The more you do that, the more trust you build — and the more trust you earn, the more loyal those individuals become. Maple Leaf Foods had to work hard to restore its image, but in the three short years after the outbreak, the company has seen support from consumers build over time, as those consumers slowly regain their trust in Maple Leaf’s efforts to keep them safe.

Would your consumers have been as trusting in the event of a similar tragedy? As loyal? If not, it’s time to begin building that foundation.