Trust in Food Labels – Can digital and transparent animal movement data increase trust in beef and dairy products?

From horse meat in lasagna to falsely declared ingredients, the food industry is increasingly losing consumer trust (Sander, Heim & Kohnle, 2016). In Germany alone, there were at least 68 food scandals in 2023 (PETA Deutschland e.V., 2023). Food labels serve as quality indicators (Splendid Research, 2023), but it is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to understand the quality characteristics behind them (Weiß, 2008). Therefore, it’s crucial to establish trust in labels as it significantly influences which products make their way into shopping baskets (Esch, Rühl & Baumgartl, 2016). Considering the food scandals and the plummeting trust in the food industry, the question arises of how trust among consumers can be restored and enhanced in both business-to-business and business-to-customer sectors.

The start-up Million Steps ( also deals with the question of whether its new concept can have a trust-building effect on beef and dairy products. Million Steps addresses this issue by implementing an innovative and transparent tracking system for animal husbandry. The company precisely monitors and documents the movements of each animal to provide clear and traceable data along the entire supply chain. In this way, the start-up provides comprehensive insight into animal husbandry. The collected data is linked to the official ear tag of each animal and can be accessed by professionals in the food industry, restaurant visitors, and customers via QR codes. Among other things, this can prove that each animal has spent at least 12 months (the time it takes a cow to take a million steps) grazing on pasture and enjoying freedom of movement. Additionally, the origin of the animals is transparently verified by making background information about the animal and the farmer accessible.

Research goal

The study, conducted by Vanessa Fleig, a student of business psychology, examines the effect of digital and transparent animal movement data from the Million Steps label on the trustworthiness of beef and dairy products.

Research overview

Qualitative individual interviews were conducted with two groups to investigate the research question. The first group consists of restaurateurs who work in various areas such as restaurants, company restaurants and catering. The second group comprises gastronomy customers of different genders and ages in order to ensure the most heterogeneous group possible. A total of five interviews were conducted per group. The interviews are based on the laddering method in order to identify further motives that can influence trustworthiness. In addition, exemplary images were shown to illustrate the label in more detail.

Main findings

  • For a label to be generally perceived as trustworthy, the following aspects are most important: positive reputation, high level of awareness, simple traceability, comprehensible presentation of information.
  • The combination of small farms with the possibility of individual visits through personal contact with the farmers, as well as regular inspections and certifications on the integrity of the label also have a trust-enhancing effect.
  • Animal movement data is largely perceived as added value by both target groups due to the continuous but especially animal-specific monitoring of farmers, which represents a new and innovative approach.
  • Animal-specific data as well as the permanent monitoring of animals counteract the motive “lack of trust in the food industry” and increase consumer trust.
  • The transparent and open presentation of information (movement data, regionality, ) also leads to increased traceability, which can also increase trust.
  • An argument against an additional trust-increasing effect is that husbandry can also be checked without active tracking through personal contact with the In addition to pasture husbandry, other factors such as antibiotic use are also relevant in order to achieve a long-term trust-increasing effect.
  • Animal movement data, especially in combination with information on place of origin and regionality, has the potential to increase trust in beef and dairy products in the long


  • The target groups differ in terms of trust-enhancing
  • While tangible evidence, such as the possibility of visiting the farm, has a

trust-enhancing effect on restaurateurs, more superficial factors, such as a clearly designed website, an appropriate amount of information or easy and transparent traceability, are sufficient for gastronomy customers.

  • Animal movement data has a confidence-increasing effect especially when labels are generally relevant to purchases.
  • If labels are not considered separately when making purchases, animal movement data may be trustworthy, but does not increase trust in beef and dairy products, as factors other than labels are perceived as value-enhancing.
  • Independent reputations increase trust, but are not yet available for Million Steps
  • As a future recommendation, the label could, for example, be registered on the online platform “Label-online”, which offers consumers an independent, uniformly evaluated overview of labels.
  • Furthermore, the selection of cooperating farmers is based on certain selection Farms should be small and regional, with the possibility of personal cooperation and adaptation to the individual wishes of the restaurants.


The study made it clear that digital and transparent animal movement data are predominantly perceived as added value and trustworthy. This assumption applies in particular to people who generally pay attention to labels, as animal movement data results in an additional increase in trust compared to other labels. The basis for this is the permanent control as well as the animal-specific proof. Transparent proof with simple and detailed traceability contributes to an increase in trust right from the start. However, a long-term trust-promoting effect only manifests itself through positive reputations and personal experience. Not only the animal movement data, but in particular the combination of transparent communication and regional production are perceived as trust-promoting attributes. In conclusion, it can be emphasized that Million Steps as a whole and not specifically the animal movement data have the potential for a long-term trust-enhancing effect in beef and dairy products.


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