By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith
- Consumers want simple advice regarding food choices
- Consumers see academics, food producers, and influencers as experts, but need to know the experts share their values
- Food producers and consumers share common values relating to animal welfare, our communities, the environment, and economics. Recognizing and building on these shared values leads to open and positive conversations with consumers.
Cost, taste, and nutrition have long been the drivers behind consumers’ food choices, however, more recent research indicates that secondary criteria have emerged. Factors like animal welfare, environmental impact and use of technology are being taken into consideration when consumers are making their food buying decisions, more so than ever before.
Consumers agree that they have the access they need to obtain this additional information via the internet, yet the amount of information available is overwhelming. There are countless white papers, news stories and blog posts by food experts at their fingertips, and these items often conflict. This “fire hose” of information leaves many consumers saying “I just want to be told what I should feed my family.”
Dr. Jude Capper, an independent Livestock Sustainability Consultant who recently joined us for a web workshop about this very topic, shared her research examining how consumers make food buying decisions in this age of information. Capper and her colleague Dr. Janeal W. Yancey found that a significant proportion of consumers have little or no farming knowledge, but they wish to understand how their food is produced and don’t always trust the information that is provided. According to Capper and Yancey, there are three major ways consumer decision making is influenced:
- Beliefs about controversial issues (use of antibiotics, climate change, etc.) are dependent on individual consumers’ culture and opinions of people with shared values. For example, if a consumer’s circle of friends believes the use of antibiotics in meat is bad, they’re more likely to believe it as well.
- Consumers don’t have time to fully research complex issues, so they may often make major decisions with limited or incomplete information. Consumers see bits of information like news clips or just an article’s headline, then make major food buying decisions based on that limited information. This means nuances aren’t always understood or even seen by consumers. When they see a headline like “Going vegetarian will cut global emissions,” they could potentially make a major buying decision—in this instance, stop buying meat—based on that single headline.
- Consumers are predisposed to believe negative information over positive information. To counteract just one piece of negative information, it takes five positive pieces of information. For example, every negative story about “pink slime,” five stories about the benefits and safety of lean finely textured beef would have to be told to counteract this information. To change consumers’ minds once a negative story is told, food producers must create and promote a positive conversation higher in frequency and volume than the negative conversation.
Based on this information, Dr. Capper says that food producers must be willing to create a dialogue with influencers that are connected with consumers. However, this isn’t a one-way street where producers provide influencers with information and expect the influencer to disseminate that information. Instead, producers should learn what shared values they have with consumers.
Producers and consumers share common values relating to animal welfare, our communities, the environment, and economics. Recognizing and building on these shared values leads to open and positive conversations with consumers. Producers need to base the discussion on sciences but should start the conversation by finding common ground.
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