Bridging the gap between consumers and their food has been an ongoing battle that research shows can only be won by trust. Charlie Arnot with the Center for Food Integrity has looked further into what it really takes to gain trust among consumers.
Arnot said that studies conducted alongside Iowa State University showed that there are three main drivers in creating a relationship with consumers: influencers, competency, and confidence in shared values. Further research revealed that of the three main variables, confidence in shared values proved to be the most important—but this can be a difficult goal to accomplish.
“Agriculture has a historical mantra of ‘We’re Feeding the World,’ but most consumers just don’t care, and it’s not a justification for more industrialized food production,” Arnot said.
This resistance towards industrial farming is largely due to food being so readily available to the public.
Arnot suggests taking the approach of addressing known consumer concerns such as food safety, nutrition, and treatment of animals, to name a few.
“Addressing those concerns is going to be the most effective strategy we can have in building trust in who we are and what we do in agriculture today,” he said.
New Safefruitsandveggies.com Website Will Improve Visitor Experience
The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) has launched an updatedsafefruitsandveggies.comwebsite with new content and to improve visitors’ experiences on the increasingly popular site.
“Thesafefruitsandveggies.comwebsite now receives tens of thousands of visitors each year,” said Teresa Thorne, AFF Executive Director. “We want to continue to improve the site, retain our visitors, and attract new users. The newly formatted site will help us to do that.”
TheSafety Standardssection of the website, which provides comprehensive information about the stringent regulations governing the approval and use of organic and conventional pesticides, has also been updated.
“This has become among the most visited sections ofsafefruitsandveggies.combecause all the pesticide regulation information from various government agencies can be found in one place,” Thorne said. “Instead of going through multiple searches and websites to learn more about these regulations, people can just come tosafefruitsandveggies.com.”
Still to come are web pages specifically designed for nutritionists and dietitians to help them answer produce safety questions from consumers, their customers, and clients.
“This new web page was actually requested by dietitians, and we are excited to have their input as we build the content,” Thorne said.
“Since research shows consumers find dietitians and nutritionists are among the most credible sources when it comes to pesticide residues and produce safety, it is important they have readily usable information,” Thorne added.
Among the most visited website section continues to be theresidue calculator, which shows consumers they could literally eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or veggie in a day and still not have any health effects from residues.
“All of the website content is either based upon peer reviewed research or on analyses by experts in the areas of toxicology, risk analysis, nutrition and farming,” Thorne said. “Consumers can also view40 videos featuring farmers and scientists, as well as information about peer reviewed studies.”
The AFF works to provide credible, science-based information so consumers can make the right shopping choices for themselves and their families.
“Thesafefruitsandveggies.comwebsite is the cornerstone of our efforts,” Thorne said. “By providing facts about produce safety and countering misinformation, we hope to remove fear as a barrier and encourage increased consumption of all forms of produce.”
Listening to Customers Concerns Will Help With Skepticism
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
There are biases against large-scale businesses, according to Charlie Arnot, CEO of The Center For Food Integrity. He said that listening to customers concerns will help with the skepticism.
“The fundamental bias we see against size and scale is a belief that the larger companies, the larger entities, will put profit ahead of public interest. We know that’s not true,” Arnot said. “Those of us who work in agriculture … know that the people—the men, and women who work in agriculture—are terrific. They’ve got values that resonate. They’re committed to doing what’s right. But because of the size, the scale of agriculture today, it raises greater questions.”
Arnot explained that this means that the ag industry needs to embrace that consumer skepticism and be willing to address those questions and not be defensive.
“We want to help people understand that yes, the size and scale has changed, but our commitment to do what’s right has never been stronger.
Consider the adage, “it’s better to make a friend than win an argument.”
“And when you get into that conversation, do you want to win an argument or do you want to win a friend?” Arnot asked. “You know, what’s important to you? And frequently if we listen hard enough, we can hear people’s values. We can listen to what they’re talking about and find that place of connection.”
“So when someone says, you know, ‘it makes me uncomfortable to see all the pesticides and the spraying on all the produce in California. I don’t think it’s safe.’ We can either defend pesticides and applications of crop protection chemicals, or we can listen to say, okay, well [what] I heard them say is they care about safe food.”
“Terrific. I care about safe food. Let’s have a conversation about our commitment to safe food as opposed to a conversation about trying to defend pesticides or crop protection chemicals,” Arnot explained.
He said that consumers have many needs when they’re making decisions about food. “Historically, we’ve thought about their rational needs. We’re going to give them information, but they also have social and emotional needs that they’re trying to meet as well.”
“They want to feel good. They want to have that emotional reinforcement [that] they’ve made the right decision for their families. They want to have confidence and feel good [that] they’ve decided to buy food that’s going to be safe and nutritious,” Arnot said. “They want to get that social reinforcement when they bring it out of the bag, when they talk to their friends, when they post a picture on Instagram or Facebook about what they’re doing. They want people to reinforce [that] they made the right choice about what they purchased.”
Voice Search Idea Studied at United Fresh BrandStorm Event
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate editor
Mary Coppola, Vice President of Marketing Communications at United Fresh Produce Assocation, is not just focused on selling brands of produce but improving marketing within the industry as a whole.
When it comes to promoting a brand, Coppola knows that people are more drawn to those they have background information on.
“We’ve certainly seen that when there is a brand association and there is a strong story shared with the consumer—that there are a trust, loyalty, and a desire to seek out that brand—in return, [that] means that the consumer is buying more of that product,” she explained.
Producers looking to create this kind of a connection should note that less is more, and consistently sending the same message is the best way to get consumers on board.
The marketing industry is also trying to capitalize on the consumer’s connection with technology. Coppola described new research into voice-activated search engines, called voice optimization.
“Consumers are, more and more, using a voice search to ask about products, what’s in season, and where they can buy such product,” she said. “There’s an opportunity for producers to start talking about their products, and their brands to be able to be the ones to answer those questions.”
Every year, United Fresh holds an event called BrandStorm that brings together produce marketers to update them on the latest trends and set the stage for the rest of their marketing activities throughout the year. They also hold a convention expo for professionals in the retail industry in order to educate them and give them the tools they need to help producers sell their products.
With an abundance of new technology and marketing research, the ultimate goal still remains the same.
“As an industry, I think we would all share the same sentiment: that we want consumers to eat more produce,” Coppola said.
Educating the Moveable Middle, One Picture at a Time
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
With technological advancements that enable everyone to share stories on social media at the click of a button, farmers now have the ability to educate the public beyond the news that chocolate milk does not, in fact, come from brown cows. Casey Kinler, Communications Manager with the Animal Ag Alliance based out of Arlington, Virginia, is urging farmers to capitalize on this opportunity.
“The problem is … [consumers] don’t hear from farmers too often,” Kinler said. “They hear a lot from the other side.”
Sharing their agricultural story can be as simple as one photo a day with a beneficial, detailed explanation that will protect it from being taken out of context.
“Stay honest and be that relatable person that people can ask questions to,” Kinler advised.
It is important that producers are engaged in conversations with those optimistic and interested in where their food comes from. Kinler calls this the moveable middle and encourages this to be the focal point for farmers.
“Have a conversation with those people and don’t waste your time on people who are trying to detract your message,” she concluded.
Animal Ag Alliance Promotes Social Media to Bridge the Gap Between Farm and Fork
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
In the age of social media, facilitating the connection between producer and consumer is more accessible than ever. Casey Kinler, Communications Manager with the Animal Ag Alliance based out of Arlington, Virginia, is not only urging farmers to jump on board the social media craze but is also focusing on helping zealous educators develop their message.
“Now more than ever, it is really important for individual farmers and ranchers to be on social media,” Kinler said.
Although this may be foreign territory for some, she recommends beginning with only one platform such as Facebook because it offers the biggest reach of people
To take it one step further, the Ag Alliance also works with college students, hosting an online scholarship competition where the goal is to teach them how to effectively communicate about animal agriculture. They just celebrated their 10th anniversary of the competition, where over 430 individuals from more than 40 different states participated.
“It’s really important for farmers to get out there and share what they’re doing on their farm and make sure that people in their community know that they are a trusted source.”
“Facts Not Fear” Produce Safety Media Tour Helps Bloggers Learn About Ag
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
Closing the gap between the consumer and the farm is a continuous work in progress. Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, is dedicated to making this happen. She helped put on the second “Facts Not Fear” Produce Safety Media Tour for registered dietitians, health and nutrition writers, and bloggers recently in the Salinas Valley, which directly focused on consumer concerns.
The “Fact Not Fear” tour allowed media influencers to see farming practices first hand, in hopes that they would share the information learned with the consumers that follow them.
“We look at them to kind of be the consumer eyes and ears and really learn more about how we produce food,” Thorne explained.
Thorne also noted that one of the main topics brought up during the round table discussion was the great “organic versus conventional farming” debate. “The farmers that were there did a great job of talking about the fact that there’s actually more similarities than differences,” she said.
In a consumer-driven industry, educating people has never been more crucial.
“For them to come out and see firsthand what we do, and then share that back with those consumers and be able to address their concerns directly, it’s just really important for us.”
More Transparency On Produce Available through iTrade Fresh
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
There is more transparency available now in produce sales, according to Dan Reighn, director of grower/shipper sales with iTrade Fresh. He explained how iTrade works with the entire supply chain for produce and perishables, providing scanning information for the customer.
“People know iTrade as a portal between buyers and sellers, so a buyer like Safeway is transacting with a supplier like Dole, … [and] we handle the purchase order, invoice, advance ship notice for them, but also we extend across the entire supply chain,” Reighn said.
“We’re offering full visibility at the very first mile supply chain where a case is either packed in the field or packed in the packing shed, and we can put a PTI traceability sticker or an item traceability sticker on a clamshell of berries and we’re able to track that product all the way to the other end of the supply chain,” he explained. “So when a consumer scans the product at the other end, they can learn more about where the product came from, and it’s a way for increased consumer engagement.”
The stickers placed on the packaging are for the customer to learn more about the grower and the local communities where the product was grown.
“There is information about the grower, so whether the product is picked in Mexico or South America, there’s a lot of growers that do a lot for local communities, and so consumers can learn about giving back and how they support the community,” Reighn said.
Because consumers are voting with their dollar, learning and feeling good about products that they’re buying can support the grower who might be providing community services or hospitals or other educational opportunities in Mexico.
“Alerts can also be sent,” Reighn said. “Our system allows us to send alerts out to consumers, so if as a clamshell of berries is part of the food recall, they’re able to understand it and follow instructions on what to do. They can call a number, turn the product in and so forth. So it’s a way for consumers to feel good about what they’re eating and making sure that they’re eating safe produce.”
Anna Gomes is a senior at UC Davis studying Agricultural and Environmental Education, with a focus on plant and soil science. She spoke recently to California Ag Today about consumer outreach to the next generation regarding agriculture at the recent Bayer Crop Science Agvocate Forum. She also explained the plan to open up an Ugly Food Market in Sacramento.
Gomes said her background in agricultural education prepared her for consumer outreach.
“I had a really unique journey through my undergrad career. So as an Ag Education major, not only have I been focusing on communication, but a lot of it’s been focused on, “How do we take this hard science and actually convert it into something that’s understandable from a consumer’s point of view and their perspective?’ ” she said.
Gomes said agvocacy is something that she is working on.
“I’m really interested in the science and research behind moving agriculture forward, and I think there’s huge potential there, but how do we educate consumers about this research and about what’s going on to really make it impactful and make it actually practical in the ag industry?
“I think you can really start from their perspectives. What makes them interested in agriculture, and how are they connecting to it? Is it merely that they consumed food every single day?” Gomes said. “OK, start with that. What do you eat? Where does it come from? What do you know about it? It’s good to start with them and get to know them, instead of starting with you and getting to know them.”
The Ugly Food Market is something that Gome started at UC Davis, which aims to reduce food waste and eliminate food insecurity,
“It’s a startup through the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. We’ve been participating in entrepreneurial competition. We’ve pitched for seed funds, so wish us luck,” noted Gomes. “We want to start a physical marketplace in Sacramento, focused around food waste and food insecurity. We’re using shrinks from grocery stores, cull fruit from the farm, wholesalers and distributors, all in between the food chain.”