Color Bars

When you weren’t looking, you became a brand

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.

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