Consumers: Let’s hear from you, food producers

Dr David Hughes says consumers are asking more questions of food producers.

Consumers are in the driving seat when it comes to influencing food production and on-farm practices, according to Professor David Hughes, Emeritus Professor of Food Marketing at Imperial College London.

The man dubbed ‘Dr Food’ says producing food is no longer just about planting a seed, watching it grow, harvesting the produce and selling it on to a faceless consumer.

Today it’s just as important to tell consumers the story behind the commodity, as much as it is growing it, he says.

Dr Hughes travels the world talking about consumer attitudes to food and says there is increasing demand from consumers to know how their food is grown.

He works with processors ‘testing the temperature of consumers’ with new products and says the gap between producers and consumers is reducing as consumer food values reach farmers.

“Ten to 20 years ago if you were a grain or oilseed grower in northern NSW you’d say ‘I don’t really need to know much about the consumer, I never see the consumer, I just produce the basic grain and then it’s processed and ends up in a product that looks nowhere near the one I grow’ — those days are gone,” Professor Hughes told Food Miles at the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Update in Dubbo, NSW.

“Consumers are saying to breakfast cereal manufacturers ‘Who grows the grain? Is it real grain? Is it a real farmer? How do they grow it? Do they hurt the environment?’.

“Famers are getting closer to consumers and that’s a good thing.”

He said there were premiums paid for produce where the grower embraced the story aspect of food. 

“The story delivers margin,” he said.

“When you talk about meat, meat is a noun, beef is a noun, there is no margin in nouns.”

Professor Hughes said terms such as ‘dry aged’ or ‘organic’ meat sparked consumers’ interest, which delivered extra profits.

He said marketing terms were also relevant to other commodities including grains and oilseed where consumers wanted Omega 3 and high fibre because they were concerned with health and wellbeing.

Consumers across the world were interested in health and wellbeing because they wanted to live longer and have a better quality of life, he said.

“They don’t necessarily turn that into action but they tell themselves they are going to eat healthier.”

While consumers want value for money, he said they were also looking for “values”.

“The values are those more social elements; how you treat the land, how you treat the farmers, how the workers are treated and how you treat animals.

“If you have a good green story then consumers respond well to you, whether they will pay more for that is another story, actually I don’t think they will (but) they increasingly expect you do to more with environmental management.”

  Food Miles wants to know what our readers think when it comes to buying produce. Does how and where the food is grown matter when you are putting it into your shopping basket?