How often in your farming day, do you stop and think “what would the consumer want me to do here?” In business, the most important person is the customer, and farming is no different. At the end of the day consumers always have a choice. Sometimes that choice is based on price (quite often), or consumer experience, and sometimes it is based on values.
There is no doubt that price has the biggest influence on consumer decision making. The general buying and consumer experience also has a big influence as well. That is one of the big drivers of the success of local farmers markets. Research has shown that the buying experience can significantly influence the consumption experience, irrespective of actual quality of the product. In other words, if I think I will have a good eating experience with a product, I most probably will. But also lurking in the background, and often downplayed in agriculture in particular, is the consumer values based decision making.
Sounds like a wanky term, but values based decision making is also heavily linked to the growth of farmers markets, because, whether just perceived or real, the story that is associated with the product aligns with the consumers values. Whether we like it or not, there is a consumer trend around provenance (knowing where the food comes from). Plenty of people would say “good, they need to understand where their food comes from”. My great fear is that for many consumers, if they really understood where some of it came from, they wouldn’t eat it. Now that is a throwaway line that has the potential to tarnish everyone with the same brush, but take it on notice that the consumer is hurtling towards the farm gate, and our industries need to be ready for that.
So, what does all of this mean for us in the sheep and beef industries? In my opinion, anyone who believes that there won’t be traceability from farm gate to retail shelf for wool, lamb and beef within the next decade is kidding themselves. Consumers want to know where it comes from. And it opens up a MASSIVE opportunity for our industries to showcase the quality of product, and production system that sits behind it. It opens up an opportunity to market ourselves very effectively against industrially produced products (food or fibre), and demonstrate how our values align with the consumers. That is not something that artificially manufactured meat, or synthetic fibres can do easily, unless we let them.
What does that mean, “unless we let them”. It means if we do a shit job of making sure our values align with the consumers, and or a shit job of demonstrating that, then they will use it against us. How can an artificially produced meat product align with the values of consumers???? Because they don’t have any animal welfare issues. How can synthetic fibres better align with consumer values than wool???? Because they don’t have to mules anything.
They may both turn out to be terrible for the environment in some way, or a health hazard, or whatever else, but if our own backyard is not clean, and we are not prepared to demonstrate our effort and excitement towards meeting the expectations of the consumers, then we will lose the battle.
You may well sit there and say “but look at wool, lamb and beef prices. What have we got to worry about”. Complacency is a dangerous thing. You may have read my recent article “Don’t be Kodak”. Photography film prices are currently at historically high levels. How much is that helping Kodak right now? They had around 10 years warning about the digital camera revolution, but did nothing about it. The market they had dominated, evaporated before their eyes.
None of us want to be the next Kodak. We want to better, and we want our products to be better. The only way anything can ever be better is to change. Keep doing the same thing, and you will keep getting the same results.
There is no doubt the environmental concerns, animal welfare, chemical use, and who knows what else, will continue to receive more and more attention from consumers. For our industries, there are two potential paths to head down. One is that we continue with the traditional lines of thinking such as “they don’t understand”, “we have to do it this way”, “sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind”. The other, is that in everything we do, we at least consider what the consumer would want us to do in that situation. We make sure that our values continue to evolve and to align with those of the consumer.
This isn’t just a challenge for producers, but for the whole industry. The supply chain, industry organisation, agribusiness, everyone. If there are people in our industry that don't represent your values, then do something about it.
One of the most common responses I hear when talking about this topic is;
“it is a slippery slope, once they get one thing, they will just want another”
Ummmm yep… that’s called progress. Look it up.
What would the consumer think of what you did today?