Building a Relationship Between Consumers and Ag Industry

There Are Ways to Gain Trust Among Consumers

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

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.

Alliance For Food and Farming Launches New Website!

New Safefruitsandveggies.com Website Will Improve Visitor Experience

News Release

The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) has launched an updated safefruitsandveggies.com website with new content and to improve visitors’ experiences on the increasingly popular site.

“The safefruitsandveggies.com website 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.”

New sections include “A Dozen Reasons to Eat Fruits and Veggies,” and “Five Facts About Produce,” which are based upon popular blog posts.  These sections provide quick and easily-retained information about the benefits of eating fruits and veggies as well as the safety of organic and conventional produce.

The Safety Standards section 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 of safefruitsandveggies.com because 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 to safefruitsandveggies.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 the residue 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 view 40 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.

“The safefruitsandveggies.com website 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.”

Charlie Arnot: A Better Way to Talk To Consumers About Ag

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.”

Charlie Arnot, CEO of The Center For Food Integrity

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.”

For more information on the Center For Food Integrity: http://www.foodintegrity.org/

 

 

 

 

Big Goal for United Fresh: Promoting Produce to Consumers

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.

Mary Coppola, United Fresh

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.

Food Safety is Critically Important for Consumers

Safe Food Alliance’s Big Lab in Kingsburg Will Serve Ag Industry

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

California Ag Today recently spoke with Tom Jones, senior director of analytical services with the Safe Food Alliance, about the new state of the art food safety lab in Kingsburg.

“We have laboratories, not only here but also in Kerman, Winters, as well as Yuba City,” Jones said. “But this is a big lab; our main lab that will provide plenty of space for research and testing.”

food safety
Tom Jones Sr. Director of Analytic Services for Safe Food Alliance

“We were in a laboratory in downtown Fresno that … was less than  8,000 square feet. We’re now in more than 20,000 square feet, and it’s made a tremendous difference—a lot more space and capacity for us to do our work,” Jones explained.

There is adequate room for additional sample storage, more instrumentation as the business grows and more people doing more work.

“We also have room for additional incubation of samples, so in the microbiological testing, that’s a big issue,” Jones said. “It is a much easier place to work in.”

“The first piece of instrumentation actually installed in the new lab before we officially moved in was our GC Mass Spectrometer Time of Flight system, and it’s a powerful system to be able to analyze for unknown compounds,” Jones said. “If you have a problem … you can take that sample, run it through the GC Mass Spectrometer and start getting data right away. Even if you don’t know what you’re exactly analyzing for, you can actually start the process there, so that’s really exciting.”

“You need qualified people to run that machine So, that’s a big part of the testing world as well. And the end goal of all of this new technology is to keep consumers safe,” Jones continued. “Our mission is to see a safe food supply from farm to fork, and we’re really excited to have this facility because we can test to a wider range of food products, using a wider range of analysis. We are here to help support our agricultural community as well as the food processing community as we export to the world.”

(Additional Photo is of the Open House at the new lab in Kingsburg.)

Anna Gomes on Consumer Outreach

Tips on How to Speak to Consumers

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

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.”

Consumers Need to Support Ag

Help Consumers Understand Ag

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Many Californians aren’t aware of the amount of agriculture in the state, and the diverse crops that are grown here, and sometimes this leaves farmers in the back seat when it comes to policy making. Cindy Smith is the Ag Policy Relations Director at Gowan. She spoke with us about the importance of consumer relations in agriculture and helping them learn to support ag.

“That’s the key message that we have to deliver, because increasingly the people who are making decisions in Washington DC are disconnected from the field,” Smith said.

“So they really need to understand that the decision that they make has an impact on a farmer, and if it has an impact on a farmer, it has an impact on a consumer,” she explained.

We all know that it’s difficult to blame consumers for not knowing about agriculture.

“Unless you live next to a farm, or you have a family member who’s in farming, a person just will not know much about agriculture,” Smith said.

“Farmers represent less than two percent of the population, in the United States, so it’s very understandable that the consumer may not have a direct connection to the farm,” she said.

“Helping consumers understand what farming actually mean, and what farmers think about, and care about, when they’re growing foods that we eat, or that go to our clothing or whatever, I think would really help consumers have a better appreciation of the value and the importance of keeping American agriculture viable and successful,” she explained.

“Talk to the people you know, talk to them at church, talk to them at Rotary, talk to them at work. They’ll tell you: ‘I like the idea that these apples, peaches, carrots, come right here from California, and I want them to continue to be available,’ ” Smith said.

“The disconnect is that I’m not sure they always understand that some of the policy decisions made might threaten that. Making sure that consumers make that connection, I think, is key for our success, too,” she said.

Support Agriculture By Being An ‘AgVocate’

Bayer CropScience Says Farmers Need to AgVocate with Consumers

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

The California Association of Pest Control Advisers (CAPCA) recently held their 42nd Annual CAPCA Conference & Agri-Expo in Anaheim.  It was a sellout crowd at the Disneyland Convention Center, with about 1,600 registered participants and more than 160 different trade show vendors participating.  The theme of this year’s conference was “Feeding a Nation, Fighting the Fear,” with speakers covering a variety of topics related to public interest in agriculture. 

David Hollinrake, vice president of Agricultural Commercial Operations (ACO) Marketing with Bayer CropScience, talked about a program that Bayer CropScience sponsors called AgVocate.   “AgVocacy really is about engaging the farmer population so that they can represent modern agriculture to the consumer population that has a growing disconnect from what we do,” Hollinrake said. 

vice president of Agricultural Commercial Operations (ACO) Marketing with Bayer CropScience, AgVocacy
David Hollinrake, vice president of Agricultural Commercial Operations (ACO) Marketing with Bayer CropScience

There has been a growing disconnect between those who are involved with agriculture and the overall consumer base.  “With misinformation sometimes comes misconceptions and mistrust,” Hollinrake noted. 

One of the reasons for the divide between growers and consumers is that the number of people involved in agriculture has declined significantly over the past 50 years.  “When my grandfather grew up on the farm, some 40 percent of people were involved in production agriculture. Today, there’s only 1 percent of the population involved in agriculture,” Hollinrake said.

It’s important to bridge that gap by giving consumers a better understanding of what agriculture is really about.  “Our role with AgVocacy is to enable the farmers to take an active role in describing the benefits of modern Ag and really dispelling a lot of the myths that exist in agriculture,” Hollinrake said.

Bayer-Cropscience-agvocate-amplify-your-voice-hero“One of the other topics that we spoke about was the difference between conventional agriculture and organic agriculture,” Hollinrake noted.  The growth in organic farms has created an atmosphere of misunderstanding; with consumers erroneously believing that traditionally grown produce is somehow less safe.  Without being involved in agriculture, it’s understandable for people to have misconceptions about how the industry works.  However, these types of beliefs solidify the need for the AgVocate program.

Hollinrake thinks meeting the dietary needs of a growing population will require both organic and traditional farming. “If we’re going to feed 10 billion people by 2050, it’s going to take all forms of agriculture. To me, it’s not an ‘either/or’ – it’s a ‘yes/and’ conversation,” Hollinrake said.

Governor Signs AB 1066 Overtime Bill for Farmworkers

Governor Signs AB 1066 With Good Intentions

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director and Laurie Greene, Editor

 

TODAY, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1066, the overtime bill for farmworkers, despite pushback from agricultural groups and farmworkers in the state. Ian LeMay, director of member relations & communications of the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association, anticipates that not only will farmers in the state lose, but farmworkers, exports, and possibly consumers will lose as well. 

For years, California farm employees accrued overtime pay only after working a 10-hour day, instead of an 8-hour day, like most other employees in California. AB 1066 changes the overtime rules for farmworkers by gradually lowering overtime thresholds in steps over the next four years so farmworkers will eventually earn overtime after an 8-hour day.

The California farm industry has appreciated the prior overtime policy, according to LeMay, because agriculture is not a typical 52-week type of job. The workload of farming ebbs and flows with the seasons, weather, cultural practices and tasks.Farmworkers

For instance, harvesting of crops such as strawberries, citrus and table grapes, normally occurs during short 2- to 3-week periods in the state and is accompanied by an increase in demand for labor. As one might expect, the need for labor declines during non-harvest and non-planting phases, to the extent that farmworkers may endure periods of no work, and hence, no pay. So farmworkers have appreciated the opportunity to work extra hours and earn overtime during busier phases.

Labor costs for California growers of all fresh fruit, avocados and many vegetable crops will be most affected by this change. “This is going to have a very, very big impact on crops that require a high degree of labor like our stone fruit, table grapes and the rest,” said LeMay, “It’s definitely going to change the way our members have to approach doing business,” he said.

“When you compare it to the other states in the union that we are going to have to compete with,” LeMay elaborated, “when you take into account recent changes in minimum wage, piece-rate compensation, increasing farm regulations and now overtime, it’s going to be very difficult to compete not only in a domestic market, but also internationally. That’s the disappointing part about this.”

LeMay also explained that over the last 40 years, the California legislature has crafted labor law to create the highest worker standards in the U.S. “California was the only state in the union that had a daily threshold for overtime of [only] 10 hours per day, and we were one of four in the union that had a weekly threshold for overtime of [only] 60 hours. So in terms of ag overtime, California was already the gold standard.”

And, although lawmakers intended AB 1066 to help farmworkers, LeMay noted, “ultimately, the measure will impact farmworkers the most because farmers in the number one Ag state will find a way to keep its bottom line from eroding any further.

“California farmers will need to solve the puzzle of how to achieve the same amount of work in fewer hours per day,” said LeMay. “They will consider hiring double crews, increasing mechanization in packing facilities, orchards and vineyards, and reducing farm acreage to match their workforce. Or, for those commodities that require increased labor, you could see a transition to commodities like nut crops that use less labor.”

LeMay explained that during down periods on the farm, farmworkers generally collect unemployment, which is based on gross annual income. Now, by giving the farmer an incentive to reduce worker hours, farmworkers’ unemployment compensation may decrease as well.

Furthermore, for the consumer who desires fresh local food from small farms, the phase-in schedule AB 1066 provides to smaller companies is actually a competitive disadvantage. “While AB 1066 allows small farmers—those with fewer than 25 employeesmore time to phase in changes,” LeMay asked, “why would a farmworker stay at small farm under the prolonged 60-hour per week overtime threshold rule, when he or she could work at a larger farm under the phased-in 40-hour per week threshold?”

ab-1066-provisions

 

Are consumers willing to pay for increased labor costs on the farm? “As the saying goes,” LeMay quipped, “generally farmers aren’t price makers, they are price takers. Consumers are usually unwilling to pay extra for their produce, so farmers usually have to absorb increased costs.”

“Economically,” LeMay summarized, “the legislature has taken us from high labor standards to economically disadvantaging farmers and farmworkers. Lawmakers are not paying enough attention to keeping California companies viable, sustainable and successful.”