What are you really selling?
Des Moines-First, the bad news. If pork producers do what they’ve always done and expect different results, they’ll be out of business, especially in turbulent times, according to 2011 Iowa Pork Congress keynote speaker Jolene Brown.
The good news? Opportunities abound for agriculture, once producers realize that the pace, the people, the process and the products associated with farming have all changed.
“It’s important to find out what today’s customers are really buying and learn how to reach this demanding market,” said Brown, a professional speaker from West Branch who has addressed a wide range of audiences at state, national and international agricultural conferences.
Four major factors are reshaping agriculture and pork production today, said Brown, who noted that:
- The pace has changed. Everything moves faster today, due to technology, and this impacts how consumers view food and mealtime solutions.
“Just as you are being pushed by today’s fast-paced world, so are your consumers,” Brown said. “You could say that today’s four food groups are fast food, frozen food, dine in and carry out.”
She cited an example from her recent presentation in Seattle at a meeting of Associated Grocers, an association that supports independent retail grocers. She learned that one of the fastest-growing segments of these food suppliers’ businesses includes super centers with delis that include drive-up windows.
“We live in a world of ‘have and have now,’ and this is the life of many people who buy our product.”
- The people have changed. There is a whole world of consumers who don’t understand modern agriculture. They can have a great deal of influence on farmers’ businesses, however, from the way they vote to the organizations they support through charitable contributions, including the Humane Society of the United States.
“We’d better be our own best commercial,” said Brown, who noted how she takes advantage of everyday opportunities to share the facts about agriculture.
“I travel a lot, and most of the time my seatmates on airplanes have never met a ‘real Farmer Brown.'”
These sincere, yet often misinformed, fellow travelers have asked everything from “Do cows that give skim milk drink more water?” to “What right do you have to play God and alter crop genetics and create ‘Frankenfoods’?”
It’s important for farmers to set the record straight, both through in-person conversations and social networking opportunities, said Brown, who’s active on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
“Every day we’d better be educating people. If you’re not out there telling your story, someone else will. Every word out of your mouth, and every post you make on a social networking site, can help people create a positive connection with you, and agriculture.”
- The process has changed. Agriculture is becoming more regulated than ever before and producers must monitor and measure a variety of practices, such as nutrient application rates.
“I don’t particularly like all the regulations and paperwork, but it’s here to stay,” said Brown, who farms with her husband, Keith. “If you’re not playing the game, you’ll be long gone.”
- The products have changed. If someone asked you what business you’re in, and that person knew nothing about agriculture, how would you respond?
Brown never says she’s a farmer – at least, not at first.
“I tell them I’m in the consumer services and products industry, which sparks their curiosity. Then I tell them how I produce the food for your table, the clothing on your back and the fuel for your car. I am an American farmer.”
It’s important to look at pork production and farming through different eyes, Brown emphasized, because today’s consumers aren’t buying food – they are buying time, youth, health and safety.
Associated Grocers, for example, reports that the two biggest areas getting more shelf space in grocery stores include organic and natural products, along with supplements, such as calcium, Vitamin D and omega 3 products.
“We all want to feel younger than our real age,”?Brown said. “Nobody wants to get sick, everyone wants more time and we want to stay safe.
“It’s important for producers and their commodity groups to consider these issues as they evaluate the best ways to promote their products.
“Remember, you’re not selling pork – you’re selling youth and health.”
While there will be surprises along the way as pork producers adapt to this brave new world, it’s important to set a target for success and pursue it, Brown concluded.
“Since the value of what we do is in the eye of consumer today, not the creator, you’d better get up to speed, or you’ll be left in the dust.
“As you look for the possibilities and find yourself wondering whether the glass is half full or half empty, realize that sometimes you just need a different-sized glass.”
You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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