As the world’s population continues to grow, so does the demand for food supplies. By 2050, the world’s agricultural production will need to be doubled to meet this demand, but at the same time use less of the world’s natural resources. In this month’s California Farmer, NST’s Kerry Tucker and Dan Dooley of the University of California, highlight the tipping point of change the agricultural industry faces and the need for farmers, large and small, to work together.
Tag: Food Foresight
Why does your customer (or consumer) buy from you rather than someone else? We hear about quality a lot; the same goes for service and a company’s heritage. But are these tired phrases meaningful selling points that define your business? Are they aligned with the attributes your customers or consumers value?
Creating competitive advantage is all about differentiation — formally scrutinizing what differentiates your organization, your company and products from the competition. It’s truly about how you make your product stand out when it looks very much like your competitors’, and a few are ahead of the curve http://bit.ly/bLnCgq.
Agriculture, processors, retailers, restaurateurs – in fact, all players in the food system – are finding themselves caught in what may at first appear to be new and disparate pressures, but in fact is a convergence of various forms of a rising demand for more transparency.
There is a rising tempo calling for more transparency in the world of food. This can be prompted by activist agendas and viral videos. Demands for transparency range from the cost of food to nutrition to food safety to carbon-footprint information to country (or even county or farm) of origin information. It comes in the form of pressure on farmers to disclose more about how much of the natural resources they use (e.g., water), their employment practices or how animals are treated.
“The fact that much of this is taking place against a backdrop in which consumers (and voters) express declining trust and confidence in all of the big American economic and political institutions that are normally relied on to provide oversight and marketplace transparency, only makes the phenomenon more disorienting,” says Food Foresight* panelist Larry Kaagan of Kaagan Research Associates.
Charlene Li, co-author of the influential book on social media “Groundswell,” argues in Information-age.com for an opportunity to use openness strategically. She draws a distinction between openness and transparency. Transparency, she says, is simply about revealing information to outside parties. Furthermore, she says there’s no way anyone can be completely transparent and we aren’t even completely transparent in our closest personal relationships.
“Openness, on the other hand, implies the greater inclusion of third parties in the operations of a business,” said Li. “Whether it is explaining the motivation behind key decisions, by including customers and partners in the product innovation process, or by conducting customer support in open, public forums, or any other application of social technology that encourages participation.”
Push Forward Strategically
The food industry is, to this point, successfully described, for the most part, as not wanting consumers to know how food is produced. The challenge is to push back on the anti-agricultural forces in a smart way, without linking “crazy, extremist” positions with ethical/values/health concerns that don’t necessarily share the same platform. It doesn’t help to be hostile. Today, activists, business forces (e.g., venture capitalist funding new entrepreneurial enterprises), academics, government agencies and increasingly mainstream opinion leaders are skillfully connecting the dots between food safety, water quality, environmental degradation and animal welfare. Any attempts to demonize those voices or trivialize the concerns they raise in the public mind, won’t work. If fact, it is more likely to add fuel to the fire.
*Food Foresight is a trends intelligence collaboration between Nuffer, Smith, Tucker Inc. and the California Institute of Food and Agricultural Research, University of California, Davis
Vocal stakeholders from all walks of life continue to challenge intensive food production and processing systems. Foundations, environmental NGOs, public health groups, medical associations, celebrity chefs and government officials from USDA’s secretary to local government planning agencies continue to support initiatives like home/community gardens, smaller local farms and sustainable agriculture.
Feeling threatened, some farmers and agricultural leaders are responding defensively. There’s anger and frustration about “inaccurate and unfair movies, magazine articles and undercover videos attempting to turn public opinion against agriculture.” Some are publicly framing agriculture’s critics as fringe elements or “crazies.”
But is this the way to respond? Many rational people embrace messages farmers consider misleading or inaccurate, and they are not likely to accept being told they are not sound in their thinking, beliefs and concerns. Isn’t a more constructive response one that acknowledges agriculture’s challenges and emphasizes that the sector is seeking solutions with an attitude of continuous improvement? Our Food Foresight panel would suggest that rebuilding agriculture’s brand around wholesome, straightforward and individual identities is a better route. “We are not angry, resentful or avoiding our responsibilities,”says Food Foresight panelist Nathan Rudgers, former agriculture commissioner for the state of New York and now with Farm Credit East. “We’re farmers doing the best we can to feed people healthy, affordable food in a responsible way.”
Big agriculture and agribusiness tend to be portrayed as industrial villains raking in big profits and government subsidies while running roughshod over the environment, farm animals and often their own workers. One would expect these voices to be from activist NGOs fighting for their causes — which they often are — but these are also views shared by everyday consumers increasingly interested in how their food is produced and where it comes from. There’s a clear dichotomy in perceptions about farmers and agriculture: On one hand, family farmers are seen as good. The romance of the farmer is highly valued in popular culture — multi-generational families caring for the land and struggling to maintain their farming way of life and their rural communities. On the other hand big agriculture is increasingly seen as bad in spite of large intensive agriculture being for the most part multi-generational family farms. Is there an opportunity for bridging this great divide? We would say it’s an urgent imperative.
Authentically re-branding agriculture is one way. While agriculture may not have star communicators like Michael Pollan, it has an army of farmers who can put a face to farming starting in their own communities and expanding out through the Internet. There also can be NGO partners who might be engaged to speak out on mutually beneficial issues.
Getting more fully engaged in the issue discussions affecting the sector – like climate change, hunger and obesity – is still another opportunity. As the tenacious leaders of California’s Ag Vision will attest, it isn’t easy. These issues require straight talk – but with science as a foundation – and a long-term commitment to stakeholder engagement and two-way education.
The need to merge feeding objectives with increased productivity, poverty reduction, improved health and wellness, and sustainability is surfacing in multiple professional forums around the world. A sustainable international food system, inclusive of all kinds of food production on all sizes of farms, with increased application of science and technology is an emerging opportunity to change the conversation about production agriculture.
Differentiation is everything. Your brand – how others perceive you – is your differentiation.
You can leave it to others to shape or proactively do it yourself. Your competitors are probably pretty good at shaping your brand for you.
Building consumer brands – once considered to be out of reach for most agri-food companies – is becoming more practical with the expansion of technology-driven media. At the very least, you should be operating from a trade brand positioning strategy and supporting your customers in advancing their produce brand with their end consumers.
Food Foresight is a trends intelligence system for the agri-food chain that is developed by Nuffer, Smith, Tucker and U.C. Davis, and there are a number of trends accelerating this idea of brand building. Those trends tend to interconnect.
First and foremost, is the erosion of trust in any and everything traditional – business, government, media, even universities. Trust in business is at a 10-year low in the U.S. according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual worldwide consumer study released the first of this year. Only 38% of Americans say they trust business to do what’s right – a 20% plunge since last year.
According to a February 2009 Center for Food Integrity research update, fewer people understand and appreciate how food is produced, resulting in lower levels of consumer trust and confidence in animal agriculture and higher levels of consumer concern and special interest pressure…but don’t think the plant side of agriculture is off the hook. Large plant-based agriculture isn’t far behind. Large-scale agriculture continues to be challenged on multiple fronts and characterized by terms like “industrial” or “factory farms.”
The Center for Food Integrity research suggests that unless the public is convinced agriculture shares its ethics, values and expectations, the industry’s freedom to operate without more legislation and regulation will continue to decline.
Consumers, the center says, must understand that while food systems have changed, operations are bigger and the technology is different, agriculture’s commitment to doing the right thing, however, is stronger than ever.
So we have consumers searching for brands they can trust…
Second consumers aren’t turning to the traditional information sources – again business, government, media, even universities – they once relied upon for help in decision-making.
It’s not that they are not listening to independent, third party credentialed experts, but they are expanding their information sources – using the Internet, blogs and social media – to seek out people like themselves – family, neighbors, friends – to talk about products and issues of common interest. The only difference is that a neighbor could be next door or around the globe given these new technology tools.
This explains why our company is building online forums where consumers can talk to one another about products and issues. We have 114,000 consumers who belong to one client’s fan club and come to their Web site to talk about their well-known product. Another client, Chicken of the Sea has 120,000 members of its Mermaid Club. We’re helping Ocean Mist Farms with its Artichoke Aficionados Club – a club to grow artichoke lovers. And we’re in the development stages of strengthening a Web presence for California wine grape growers.
So there are opportunities for building brands with consumers, even creating product ambassadors, especially if you’re a company like Ocean Mist that dominates a commodity the way OMF dominates artichokes.
But given these trends – the erosion of trust and consumers seeking their own advice from people like themselves over the Internet –brands need to be more than a few descriptive words.