Through the jungle: Brown shares insights about consumers
Casper – “We’re used to doing things the same way, and when we have to change, it’s not easy,” said Jolene Brown, a speaker and farm wife from Iowa.
In the wake of a changing public, Brown said it is also important for the ag industry to make some changes. She addressed the opening general session of the 2016 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup on Dec. 6.
Brown noted that consumers face many challenges today, noting that among those, an increased pace of living is top.
“When I was talking to Associated Grocers, the largest retailer of our food, I asked them where they make the most money,” she said. “They said that they make the most money on their delis that have drive-up windows. Consumers don’t want to cook at home, but they want a home-cooked meal.”
At the same time, technology is pushing the world.
In fact, Brown encouraged producers to embrace technology, citing things like internet marketing, computer accounting or even internet videos that provide step-by-step advice on how to fix equipment.
“I say we’ve got to get up to speed. The world is pushing us, and the pace is out there,” she said. “We cannot hide from technology. It will find us.”
“The people have also changed, and the world does not understand what we do,” Brown commented. “Yet, they decide whether or not we can do it. There are more of them, and they vote.”
As consumers vote to pass laws, elect politicians and advocate for rules and regulations, Brown said the agriculture industry needs to speak out.
“The world doesn’t understand us, but we meet them a lot, and most of the time, they’re tickled when they find out they’re sitting next to a real farmer,” she added, noting that it’s important to engage consumers in conversations. “They buy our products and put through rules and regulations, yet they don’t understand what we do. They have more power.”
To level the playing field between consumers and the agriculture industry, Brown noted that social media is a key tool.
Informing the public
When interfacing with consumers, Brown said that it is important to have a message and to spread that message.
As an example, Brown recalls a time when she was contacted by the editor of a Latino magazine asking, what do farmers, ranchers and growers wish people would know about the food they eat?
“They needed a response in 24 hours,” Brown said. “I said, ‘We farmers and ranchers want consumers to know that we need all types. We wish that when consumers have a question, they would come directly to us and have a conversation, not a confrontation.’”
She noted that it is important for farmers and ranchers to stand up for their position as often as they can through conversations, not confrontations.
When Brown is engaging consumers in conversations, she noted that it all starts with telling people what she does.
“If I want to promote agriculture, I don’t tell people I’m a farmer. I tell them I’m in the consumer products industry,” she said. “Then, when they ask what I produce, I say, ‘The food you eat and the clothes you wear. I’m an American farmer.’”
She continued, “The value of what we do is in the eye of the consumer, not the creator, and until we tell them what we do, they’re going to put us out of business.”
Brown noted that consumers don’t buy food. Rather, they make purchasing decisions based on other priorities.
“Consumers aren’t buying beef, protein or grain,” she said. “They’re buying time first. We have to figure out how raising beef sells time.”
She continued, explaining that as the pace of the world continues to increase, time is important.
Another priority for consumers is youth.
“Nobody wants to get old,” Brown commented. “Who wants to be old? No one. We have to sell youth. Our age has nothing to do with age but everything to do with the fire in our bellies.”
Consumers also make purchasing decisions based on health.
As an example, Brown cited a sticker seen in her local grocery store on a case of water that said, “gluten free.” Brown noted that the proprietor of the store said they put the sticker on the higher-priced water in an attempt to sell more product.
“That is accurate advertising, but the assumption is that everything else is bad,” she said, noting that ethically, that statement is in a pretty gray area, and agriculture should strive to be ethically sound.
“The third thing consumers buy is safety,” she noted. “Lastly, our consumers buy an experience.”
While the fast food movement is continuing strong, Brown said that slow food is an increasing trend. Consumers will pay inflated prices to experience the food they eat.
“Consumers are buying time, youth, health, safety and experience,” she said. “I know we don’t look at the world like that.”
Brown noted that perhaps the ag industry should take a different perspective.
Changing the viewpoint
“Many of us in the ag industry take the perspective of a victim,” Brown noted. “It’s always someone else’s fault – the tax laws, the consumer, etc.”
Those in the industry who don’t play the victim may be “wishers,” who wish for the good old days when life was easier.
However, Brown noted that whichever position industry members take, it is important to take a more progressive stance and continue to advocate and work for the future of the industry.
“Getting to where we are today wasn’t easy, and we’ve done a lot along the way,” Brown said. “We’ve made progress.”
“The trail forward is not always clear, and sometimes we can’t even find the goal, but we need to make one, and we need to keep moving forward,” she added. “Be ready for surprises.”
Brown encouraged producers to be prepared to accept the things that individuals cannot control of change but to continue to fight for the industry.
Brown added, “Life in the beef industry is not a spectator sport. It is a fun-filled and ever-changing dream.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.