By Andrew Stutzman, Loan Officer
This article first appeared in our Plain Dirt Newsletter.
Have you considered what influences the choices that consumers make as they decide who to buy their food from? Farmers have varying degrees of closeness to or separation from end consumers.
If you sell your product to a co-op, for example, you probably don’t need to interact with or market to the people who use your product. The co-op, grocery store, and others along the supply chain handle that interaction.
Others are more engaged in this interaction. If you sell your product directly to consumers or wholesale a branded product, you must do your own marketing. In order to market successfully, it helps to know some of the trends that influence consumers’ decisions these days.
This business model is familiar to me, since the farm I grew up on marketed directly to consumers. We raised beef, lamb, pork, and broilers, selling all of the meat directly to consumers. Many of the following trends were beginning to emerge when our farm began over 20 years ago, and now they have firmly taken root.
Today’s consumers value transparency. Just like you can see clearly through transparent glass, a business is transparent if it allows its customers to see everything it does, without hiding anything or deceiving.
Consumers want to know everything they can about how their food was produced. What are you doing to take care of your land? How do you treat your workers? How do you treat your animals? How do you make sure your customers are getting a safe, healthy product? The more you can tell them about these things, the better. And most importantly, be honest.
Without transparency, there cannot be trust. But when you willingly and honestly share the details of how you run your operation, you will begin to gain your customers’ trust. One third of Americans named trust as one of the three biggest factors that influence who they buy their food from, according to a study by the Food Marketing Institute. To win their trust, you’ll need to show customers that their food is produced safely and ethically.
What people refer to as social consciousness means treating people and things ethically, respectfully, and responsibly. This involves things such as treating employees well, taking care of your land in an environmentally sustainable way, and making a positive impact on society. The same Food Marketing Institute study found that nine out of 10 young adults are more likely to buy from people and companies who support causes they believe in – and they’re willing to pay more for those products, too. Food vendors are catching on. A Forbes study found that new food and beverage brands that make ethical claims on their packages have increased by seven times since 2010.
More and more, consumers desire to have a connection with the farmer who produced their food. Just the other day, I was in a new grocery store and noticed that some of the food items had signs next to them with photos and short stories of the farmers who produced them. People enjoy feeling this personal connection with their farmer.
If you retail your own products, you have a special opportunity to connect with your customers when they come to buy from you. Good interactions will create long time loyal customers. If you wholesale a branded product, consider adding a personal touch to the packaging that tells the end consumer a little about who you are. On our farm, from time to time, we would invite customers to an organized tour of our farm. This was another way to give our customers a connection to us and to our farm, while also providing the transparency described earlier. Especially if customers come to the farm to buy or to tour, make sure that you keep things clean and tidy, in order to give them confidence in the quality and safety of your product.
Consumers have been becoming more concerned with the nutritional quality of what they eat. They understand that what they eat affects their health and how they feel. Show them that you make the nutritional quality of their food a priority.
There has been a lot of emphasis on buying local food in the recent years. Consumers see several benefits in buying local. Local food is better for the environment, since we don’t have to burn a lot of fuel to transport it across the country. It is generally healthier, because it spends less time in storage and can be sold fresh. It benefits local farmers and the local economy.
Knowing these consumer trends can help you market your product specifically to your buyer, increasing your chances of success!