Just off of 2016 Farm and Food Care and The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity Public Trust Summit, and after thinking about not much more than how to earn public trust with the urban consumer within the agricultural… er, food industry (more on that later) for the past 36 hours, I ask myself whether I as an agri-marketer and communicator, and is the agricultural industry as a whole, any better off or at least further along.
Over the intense day and a half surrounded with “ag experts” from all sectors of the industry and value chain and hearing from international brands, our U.S. counterparts, farmers, media spokesperson, and even end consumers, my answer is “I think so.”
What wasn’t a new reality to the group is the fact that there is a long, winding road ahead of all of us. Twenty-five years was floated out there as a timeline for the industry to commit resources to, but if we feel we need to state that to encourage buy-in right now so be it; but I think we’re all smart enough to know that you never stop earning public trust and you can never stop loosing it.
What was also confirmed, something that I had personally heard before through research, report reading and firsthand focus group conversations with the public, is the fact that the urban consumer knows very little, and what they do know may be based on misnomers and partial truths. If your glass is half full, then this is an opportunity to set the record straight because opinions that have not been formed can easily be challenged and new opinions can take shape. If that glass happens to be half empty, you’re dealing with a disenchanted, ill-informed, non-engaged, confused, frustrated, cynical, nostalgia-loving consumer base, and to get in front of that is a whole lot of mess.
I’ll take a sip from my half glass full and talk about my takeaways:
How can the ag industry connect and engage with the general public when they are a couple of generations removed from the farm and frankly tell us again and again that they don’t care much about agriculture? We can start talking their language, and that language is FOOD.
When asked, do you support antibiotic use in the raising of animals, and they tell us “no.” When we ask do you support treating a sick animal, and they tell us “yes.
Their concerns are our concerns, but we lead with “ag” and we should be leading with “food”. They care about safe food; we care about food safety. They care about affordable food; we care about efficiencies. They care about the care of animals; we care about animal husbandry.
Family farm vs. factory farm became clearer to me than ever before, and that isthanks to a single consumer on the consumer panel.
A family farm has hundreds, not thousands of animals or acres. Smaller means more animal and land care. Smaller means healthier food. Smaller means there is less importance on profit, more on tradition, family values and hard work. Smaller can have technology, but that technology is rooted in values.
So if much of how food is raised and grown in today’s world does not fit within the perceived values of a family farm, what are we to do?
We need to reframe what a factory farm offers in the way of values. Scientific values are a plenty. We are in the top tier of regulated industries, and these regulations offer a fantastic foundation for proving, showing and engaging with the consumer in ways that matter to them. Remember “safe food” vs. “food safety.”
The dairy industry, the pork industry and through the baker’s dozen of Canadian roundtables are either working on or have gone to market with verification programs that will provide peace of mind, provided they talk in the way of values.
We don’t need to perpetuate the romantic idea of farming, but there is common ground in shared values so consumers can buy with confidence.
Great, we now see the fundamental opportunities to mend bridges, and we know that shared values are three times more “sticky” than fact-driven messages. But how do we communicate and engage when that busy soccer mom is busier than ever?
Storytelling can make us laugh, cry and connect like nothing else can. Consumers need to feel our messages, not just understand them. Storytelling gets people to act and see value in what we do. The challenge is to find the emotion buried in our stats and recognize that what we all individually do as value chain members result in that sustainable, economical, healthy meal they’ve prepared for their family
My friends, we’ve been out-storied.
Robert Mensies is the Director of Client Strategy and lead for the Agri-business and Food sector for 6P Marketing, the President of the Canadian Agri-Marketing Association, Manitoba, and a self proclaimed food snob.