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News & Media: Staff Columns

How customers see us plays a role in our future

Wednesday, December 6, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lauren Brey, director of marketing and research
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Understanding what your audience wants, values and believes is a key to effective  communication. Otherwise, your message will never truly be heard.

To guide agriculture in reaching our customers, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance continues to monitor and measure customer opinions regarding farming and ranching. This past spring the alliance presented the findings of its fourth annual Consumer Perception Survey of General Consumers and Consumer Food Connectors.

“Consumer food connectors” are top influencers in shaping food conversations. Between 21-65 years of age, they do not work or have immediate family who work on a farm. They are well-educated, concerned with food issues and driven by their health and the health of their families.

These food connectors take time and effort to communicate about how food is grown and raised. They are passionate about food issues, but not necessarily fully immersed in facts and science. They have above-average income and education and account for 15-20 percent of the U.S. population. They are not activists and their opinions can be changed.

It is interesting to note that food connectors are not driven by price but rather by their values. Their experiences allow them to make up their own minds. They are driven by their own personal brand and see it as their ethical duty to tell others what they know.

Food connectors’ attention is grabbed when they can engage, especially online. They want personal connections with experts, or to feel like they can relate to experts. They value transparency and commitments by companies and brands that admit to mistakes and strive to do better. These customers influence their friends, family and the media.

Top 10 insights from USFRA’s research:

1. Animal care concerns are on the rise and potentially the biggest threat to long-term trust. Forty-four percent of consumer food connectors have discussed animal care with others in the past year. Most Americans (57 percent of general consumers, 64 percent of connectors) do not believe animals are well-cared for on farms and ranches. Millennials are more likely than other generations to feel this way.

2. Long-term human health concerns drive angst and distrust. Sixty-one percent of food connectors are very concerned about how food is grown and raised and how it will affect the health of children.

3. Customers misunderstand processed foods. Products with the least number of ingredients are appealing. Sixty-five percent of food connectors say that so-called clean labels (no artificial ingredients or chemicals and minimal ingredients) affect purchase decisions.

4. Local food = No. 1. “Local” rises above organic, environmental sustainability or other labels. Local is defined as within 100 miles of someone’s home and sometimes as within a customer’s home state. Fifty-six percent of connectors trust “local” farming over “organic” and “natural.”

5. Purchase preference focuses on the specific absence of things, not broad categories. Customers focus on the absence of things in very specific ways, e.g., no antibiotics, no hormones, no GMOs, etc. Looking for items that meet this trend dominates over the broad category of organics.

6. Customers are less curious and vocal on food issues overall. Food connectors are more settled in their opinion – they have less interest in topics, less discussion and less activism. Therefore, fewer passionate, very vocal voices are driving discussion, not more people. “It could also mean that the saturation point on food issues has peaked and there needs to be a finer focus, not a broader one on audience,” the researchers said. Customers consistently advocate for “antibiotic free” and less processed/clean label the most, and are increasingly doing so.

7. There is a major gap in tying environmental sustainability to GMOs and farm technology. As could be suspected, the research reiterated there is a major gap in understanding that modern farming practices like GMOs are improving environmental sustainability.

8. Confusion remains with customers. Customers are torn – they are more positive about agriculture moving in the right direction but they decreasingly believe farmers are focused on continuous improvement.

9. It is all about visual storytelling. Videos need to be shared to deliver stories and messaging. Videos and documentaries remain the most influential medium for delivering information about farmers and ranchers.

10. Many groups are key influencers, not just one. Doctors, nutritionists, farmers, friends and chefs all seem to have equal footing as  influencers.

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