Jumat, 10 Mei 2013

How Do We Meet Consumer Food Expectations and Demands?

by John Berry, Extension Educator, Lehigh County

As I explore conditions with which "my" direct-to-consumer farm marketer clients manage their enterprises, the most frequently noted comments center on understanding the changing and apparently flexible nature of consumer expectations.  Sometimes, we expect our buyer to think and act similar to ourselves. Often, they do not.

Looking at recent research on consumer purchasing behavior we came across the below summary. This USDA summary compares how consumer buying behavior compares to scientific food use recommendations. The article titled Americans' Food Choices at Home and Away: How Do They Compare With Recommendations? offers the following highlights:
  • Grocery purchase data reveal that consumers underspend on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and overspend on refined grains, fats, and sugars/sweets, compared with USDA food plan recommendations, a pattern that showed little change from 1998 to 2006.
  • Food consumption data point to an even bigger challenge to improving diet quality: away-from-home foods now account for one-third of daily caloric intake, and they are not as healthful as at-home foods.
  • New government and private industry initiatives to make food labels and point-of-purchase information ore relevant, understandable, and motivating may help consumers choose more healthful foods.

For us direct-to-consumer farm marketers - this study (and others) makes me wonder how to best promote the safe nutritious foods available at our markets. The challenge may be the "more relevant, understandable, and motivating" concept made in the 3rd bullet point above.  Let's look at how we might enhance customer communications efforts to reassure and reach these vital business partners.

  1. Relevance - consumers have more than enough places to receive product knowledge and products. Our main task is to stay up-to-date with what our current (and potential) customers' desire and then communicating product benefits in a casual, non-intrusive manner.
  2. Understandable - we can turn to the dictionary here for a straight-forward look at how to approach shaping our customer buying habits. The Webster's dictionary offers the following when describing "understandable": accessible, coherent, graspable, legible, decipherable; plain, simple, fluent, well-spoken. All these descriptive words suggest the use of words, concepts and calls to action that are at the reading and comprehension level appropriate for our expected shoppers. There may be little need for industry jargon and fancy terms.
  3. Motivating - consumers have a wide range of factors affecting what drives their food purchasing habits. It can be a continuous struggle between what I believe is significant and what I believe is within my means. Understanding and motivating the purchasing activity within your market can be quite powerful.
The challenges of effective retail farm marketing atop all the other business management challenges are often immense. However, they are not insurmountable. When we focus some of our time on a better understanding of the constantly evolving state inside our customers' heads we are better prepared to influence their purchasing behaviors. As we reassure and motivate our buyers we stand to have a more positive experience ourselves.
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