Purpose: Consumers’ trust in food systems is essential to their functioning and to consumers’ well-being. However, the literature exploring how food safety incidents impact consumer trust is theoretically underdeveloped. This study explores the relationship between consumers’ expectations of the food system and its actors (regulators, food industry and the media) and how these influence trust-related judgements that consumers make during a food safety incident. Design/methodology/approach: In this study, two groups of purposefully sampled Australian participants (n = 15) spent one day engaged in qualitative public deliberation to discuss unfolding food incident scenarios. Group discussion was audio recorded and transcribed for the analysis. Facilitated group discussion included participants' expected behaviour in response to the scenario and their perceptions of actors' actions described within the scenario, particularly their trust responses (an increase, decrease or no change in their trust in the food system) and justification for these. Findings: The findings of the study indicated that food incident features and unique consumer characteristics, particularly their expectations of the food system, interacted to form each participant's individual trust response to the scenario. Consumer expectations were delineated into “fundamental” and “anticipatory” expectations. Whether fundamental and anticipatory expectations were in alignment was central to the trust response. Experiences with the food system and its actors during business as usual contributed to forming anticipatory expectations. Originality/value: To ensure that food incidents do not undermine consumer trust in food systems, food system actors must not only demonstrate competent management of the incident but also prioritise trustworthiness during business as usual to ensure that anticipatory expectations held by consumers are positive.
- Food incident
- Food system