21, 2004: Last month the National Farm Products Council
organized a forum on grocery and food service trends for poultry
and egg sector leaders. We came from across Canada to meet
with people who have made it their business to understand
consumers and their needs.
We heard David Bell, a marketing professor at Harvard Business
School, say that we should stop this pattern of listening
to consumers and then concluding that consumers obviously
do not know what they are talking about. In his view we spend
too much time understanding our products, and not enough time
understanding our customers. He sees no point in participating
in the who-can-deliver-it-to-me-for-less auctions run by some
retailers: “If you compete separately you will fail
He recommends working towards partnerships based on cost
plus, open books, trust, quick response to customer changes,
traceability, innovation and storied food. He urged us to
avoid marketing expenses between participants in a value chain:
he was blunt--abandon the dream of windfall gains in return
for a share of the profits.
Pollster Allan Gregg saw change just about everywhere. The
aging baby boom is creating a new kind of old person. Public
decision-making is being feminized by the impact of 12% more
women in universities than men. High levels of immigration
are creating new groups of consumers. Bad government has eroded
confidence in public institutions as agencies for the public
good. The generation gap has disappeared as adult children
return home and create a new kind of extended family. Well-being
consumes consumers, who in turn are predisposed to be concerned
about new risks, especially those that are invisible and ingested.
Craig Watson, a quality assurance manager for a multi-billion
dollar prepared-meals supplier, described customer focus as
a story to tell that gives the sales associates of the firm
an advantage in the marketplace. In addition to regulatory
compliance his ingredients of choice for the story are: socially
responsible, traceability, third party-audited animal welfare
policies, nutritional information, niche products, uniquely
prepared and locally procured. His agenda is not just food
safety, but also food security.
Cora Tsouflidou described how she turned an abandoned snack
barn into a franchised chain of 70 Chez Cora Restaurants in
just 15 years. She serves only breakfast, combining fresh
fruits, cheeses, cereal, omelets, crepes and French toast.
The primary ingredient for her success? Quoting Cora: “We
are more about exciting and delighting customers than about
Meanwhile the business of farming continues to emphasize
produce, produce, produce. If I take the views of the speakers
at the forum seriously there will be little room for stewards
of this status quo on the farms of the future.
For more information about the National Farm Products Council
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