Farms need to connect with consumers

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CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY, N.Y. – Agriculture needs to tap into consumer food trends to stay in touch with tomorrow’s market demands.
Jane Andrews, a corporate nutritionist with Wegmans Food Markets, was the keynote speaker at the recent seminar, Building a Better Future through Agriculture Initiatives, sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Chautauqua County Farmland Protection Board.
Embrace change. “Change is the only constant,” Andrews told the audience.
She outlined changes in makeup of the population, changes in lifestyles, changes in income, changes in the attitude toward food safety, and changes toward health.
She divided food trends into the three Ts – time, taste, and trust.
Consumers want to know if it saves work and time. They want to know if they will like the food and if their family will like it. They want to know if the food is good for them – is the food wholesome and safe.
Trends vs. fads. There are trends and fads when it comes to food.
Trends last three years or more, Andrews explained. They have a broad demographic appeal and there are many interpretations and producer applications.
Fads, on the other hand, explode and disappear. There is a narrow application and there is broad immediate recognition.
Health issues. “Health issues drive trends,” she emphasized.
Obesity and the high cost of health care are driving forces. Consumers want to be proactive and prevent disease before it happens and many distrust prescription drugs.
Still, people are driven by price and convenience when it comes to the purchase of food.
Cooking for dummies. When it comes to cooking, Andrews categorizes consumers as “dummies” or “sophisticates.”
The dummies hate to cook, she explained. They eat to live. Getting fed is important to them.
The sophisticates love to cook. Good food is their reward. They live to eat. Cooking meals brings great satisfaction.
Wegmans is working against the dummy scenario, Andrews said. They are marketing speed scratch dishes, one-dish meals, and meals ready to pop in the oven or microwave. They aim for 15 minutes of prep time.
“Our primary business is to help make great meals easy,” said Andrews. “We want repeat customers.”
Andrews encouraged farmers to follow the food trends. They need to know how to package and how to market to maximize sales.
Andrew’s observations were seconded by Tom Davenport, the region’s 2004 Grape Industry Person of the Year.
Davenport also encouraged seminar participants to understand consumer preferences because buyers drive production and market techniques.
Unfortunately, Davenport noted, the farming industry has traditionally been slow to react.

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