Can We Have Our Ag Cake…and Eat It, Too?
Sustainability Technology: Getting Consumers to Demand a Fork
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. It drives home the point that people who want it all can’t always have it. In our opinion, that’s been the challenge in the sustainable agriculture discussion. Consumers want their cake: affordable, healthy, safe food. But they also want that food to be grown in a way that benefits the economy, environment and society as a whole. That’s the “eating” part. As consumers, we want it all. But as active contributors in the agriculture industry, we know it’s not that simple.
There is path forward, though, that helps us have our cake and eat it too. It’s about having the tools that help us do both. In the cake-eating analogy, having forks or spoons facilitates the eating part. With sustainability, we also need tools to help us realize that goal. Farmers and every other link in the food value chain want to achieve all of sustainability’s benefits, so that’s not the challenge. The challenge is getting consumers to not only realize the importance and need for technology in farming, but to help drive demand for it.
The Consumer Mind-Set: Technology in Farming
In a recent Feed4Thought study by Cargill’s animal nutrition business (July 2019) 4,000 adults in the U.S., China, Mexico and Spain were asked “what farmers should care about.” The majority (55 percent) said farmers should provide safe, healthy and affordable food. Only 28 percent said farmers should focus on sustainability. However, when those same consumers were asked to use a word that best describes what they wanted a farmer to be, “sustainable” was the top response (30 percent). Sixteen percent said “traditional,” and only 7 percent wanted farmers to be “innovative.”
Cargill’s July 2019 Feed4Thought study interviewed 4,000 adults. While the majority (55 fifty five percent) said farmers should care most about providing safe, healthy and affordable food, only 7 percent think farmers should be innovative.
Survey data shows that consumers want farmers to be sustainable, but they don’t understand or connect the value that technology brings to the sustainability equation. When consumers don’t understand the value of technology, it can significantly impact food demands and how farmers manage their operations. Just ask any farmers who use biotechnology to help manage pests and diseases or animal agriculture operations who use technology to milk, feed or manage their animals’ diets.
So why are consumers averse to technology in agriculture? Our lives have become so complicated that we yearn for the days when they were simpler. That’s especially true when it comes to the food in our lives. If we’re lucky to have an ag connection in the family, we may remember carefree summer days spent on our grandparents’ or great grandparents’ farm. More likely, we don’t have a close connection to a farm, but we may see nostalgic pictures that make it seem like farming was simple. As a whole, we’re done with processed foods and want to have food that’s as fresh and pure as it would be if we could walk out our back door and pick the green beans out of the garden for dinner.
To many consumers, that’s what they think of when they say they want their food sustainably produced — technology doesn’t have room in their nostalgic or romantic picture of farming or sustainability. As ag marketers, we must highlight the benefits of technology as it relates to what consumers value — something simpler and pure.
Keep Telling Your Story
Agriculture has done a great job in the last 10 years or so telling its side of the story, but we’ve only scratched the surface. We have to keep telling those stories. Specifically, we have to share why we need technology and how it not only helps deliver affordable, healthy, safe food but how it also benefits the environment, economy and society as a whole. In short, we’re trying to drive consumers to demand “forks” or other technologies so we can all have our cake and eat it too.
How can you be effective in telling your sustainability story?
- Keep it simple
- When talking about technology, we tend to get deep into the details. It can get complicated and quickly becomes overwhelming for the consumer. Keep it simple. Start by describing the benefits — not the features.
- Get real
- Your audience wants to hear firsthand from others about their experiences with your product or initiative, but not in a canned testimonial kind of way. Talk to farmers or others in the food value chain and let them explain in their own words what the technology means to everyone. Hearing what they have to say in an authentic, genuine voice can help establish trust with your audience, and that is a powerful thing.
- Be visual
- A picture is worth a thousand words, and that goes double for video. It makes instant connections. If you are opting for video, you can highlight a few themes you want to hit on, but do not script it out word for word. The power is in the authenticity of who’s telling your story and how they’re telling it. So give your subject expert a few bullets of topics you want them to cover and have them tell you what they think in their own words. That is real, relatable and powerful.
- Remember the three pillars
- In our last blog post on sustainability, we noted that for something to be sustainable, it must address three components: economic, environmental and social. Don’t forget that when you’re telling your sustainability story. Be sure to highlight how your product or initiative ties into or benefits each one of those areas.
At Woodruff, we have a passion for sustainability and for telling relatable and compelling stories. Whether you need help crafting an entire sustainability approach to help move your business forward or you want to bounce some of your stories by us to determine if they’ll resound with your audience, we’d love to talk with you. In any case, we know there’s some fork making and cake eating in all of our futures.