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Connecting the dots
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Consumers say they want someone they trust to help them understand issues about their food.

We're not actually listening to the consumer

A recent consumer panel I witnessed taught me consumers want knowledge and someone to trust.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture recently hosted their “Governors Conference on Agriculture,” which was a really good event showcasing what is being done in Missouri with all aspects of agriculture. I have to say this was one of the better conferences I have attended. The planners did a great job showing what is great about Missouri’s agriculture with relevant speakers and exhibits.

One interesting session of the conference was a “consumer panel” made up of different people, ranging from chefs to working moms. These panelists were picked by the hosting venue from the local community, which is in central Missouri. They all had no agricultural background but were concerned about making good and informed decisions on food purchases for themselves and their families.

One interesting thing I gleaned out of this exchange was not only the amount and kind of knowledge of the panelist had about their food choices, but also what was most important to them.

The moderator had some pre-scripted questions which she posed to the group such as the difference between different methods of producing eggs, such as free range, organic and others. She also asked them questions about the differences between GMO and non-GMO products, seeing if they knew the difference between the two.

It became evident very quickly that there is no doubt confusion on what is offered and what each can mean to different consumers. There is also confusion by producers on what is important to our customers.

The take-away for me was trust. Each of these consumers were willing to pay more for a product with which they had some personal connection or which was labeled with all things that allowed them to make an informed decision.

They weren’t that concerned about GMO’s yet they did want to know if they were in their product.

They weren’t that concerned about the organic label but wanted to know how the product was produced and where.

The piece they were looking for was trust, and more of a connection.

There is a lot of mistrust in our world today. Most don’t trust our government. I see it in the water industry as many don’t trust the methods to make water drinkable or the regulating agencies whose job it is to maintain these standards. Many don’t trust our food and the regulations or regulators who are supposed to keep those standards.

In my opinion, there are two primary reasons for this mistrust. First is from experience of information given that was said one way and then found out later it wasn’t true. Most of us can think of many examples of things said to be good for us, then later not so good. The second reason is a lack of critical thinking and not taking to time to educate ourselves as consumers of all goods and services.

We owe it to ourselves to be our own advocates of anything that has to do with our health and wellbeing, whether it’s the food we consume or the water we drink.

As producers of food, I say we owe it to our customers to make this as easy and as transparent as possible. Producers are as disconnected from consumers as consumers are disconnected from producers (as I have previously written). No doubt this trust can be regained by both sides and I for one am ready to get on with the job.

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