While food safety will always be the cornerstone of our food production process, allegiance is making inroads into why and where consumers buy their products.
Sure, the majority of today’s shoppers enjoys and often takes for granted the expanded menu in supermarkets. They look forward to shopping in a meat case filled with dozens of new cuts, pre-packaged, oven-ready, custom portioned, “natural” and pre-cooked products. They can’t wait to get their mitts on the marinades, dry rubs, cooking bags and other specialty items designed for time strapped, two-income families.
There’s also another growing group of consumers who are purchasing products based on trust and nostalgia. This notion of nostalgia harkens back to the good old days—a time when events and lives were perceived as simpler, more wholesome, just downright better.
Many in this new group of consumers want to share in the story behind the product they are buying. They wish to establish a direct link and cultivate a relationship with the producer who provides them with tomatoes, asparagus, corn or their leg of lamb for the upcoming holiday.
There are a fair number of shoppers who yearn to develop a trust with producers who they believe will provide them with a quality, consistent wholesome product.
Tapping into this ever-changing consumer landscape, today’s food producer—especially those located near large-population, urban areas—must not miss the opportunity to reach the hearts, minds and stomachs of consumers who feel strongly about their food.
Some consumer-savvy food growers are already honed in on this concept. They’ve retooled their farming operation from a conventional commodities-only business to one that includes pick-your-own sweet corn, pumpkins, asparagus, tomatoes and strawberries. They’re giving people what they want.
Others now provide home deliveries of fresh produce and sell their produce at local farmers’ markets. Still others have added a corn maze, day-on-the-farm activities, ice-cream socials and chuck-wagon cookouts for everyone from school-aged kids to wedding rehearsal parties.
This new direction in farming is being driven by farmers and ranchers who are attempting to be less dependent on cheap land and vast acreage. These pioneers are tapping into the population surge and wealth of consumers who shop online, drive a couple cars including a SUV and don’t mind paying a premium for the food they feed their families.
Another common element of this non-traditional farmer is the belief that this shift in production style may not make them rich, but will keep them out in the open spaces, running their own business and doing what they enjoy. A large percentage of those willing to try something new are younger farmers. In many cases, a young farmer is often considered someone who has yet to reach the half-century mark.
For some traditional farming became too expensive. Others decided traditional farming was no longer worth the effort. Whatever the reason, any farmer will tell you that farming is a challenging vocation. Still most would agree they are glad they bought their land, and glad they’re doing what they enjoy.
No doubt, more and more farmers will be looking at new strategies. Those who are determined to stay in this business of agriculture will have to find innovative ways to farm.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.