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Farmers told: Wake up – not all shoppers care where their food comes from

PUBLISHED: 15:02 08 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:41 08 February 2019

Prof Andrew Fearne of the UEA's Norwich Business School speaking at the 2019 Norfolk Farming Conference. Picture: Keiron Tovell.

Prof Andrew Fearne of the UEA's Norwich Business School speaking at the 2019 Norfolk Farming Conference. Picture: Keiron Tovell.

Keiron Tovell

Farmers were told they need to “wake up” to the complex demands of their consumers – and ditch the assumption that everyone cares about where their food comes from.

Andrew Fearne, professor of value chain management at the UEA’s Norwich Business School, said farmers need a much better understanding of consumer behaviours and should stop relying on other elements in the supply chain to give them a competitive advantage.

He told the Norfolk Farming Conference that while retailers are painstakingly profiling their consumer data, the majority of farmers “assume someone else is taking care of all this” – but they should collaborate more closely to ensure they are growing a product that will be in demand.

“The single most important stakeholder in a food chain is not you,” he said. “It is the consumer. Ultimately they will decide how much they will spend. And none of us are paying enough attention to the consumer.

“If you’ve got a healthy product, that’s a plus. If it is convenient, that’s a plus. But also if it is not healthy and not convenient, then it needs to be absolutely to die for. Then people might sacrifice the health and convenience, and might even pay more for it, but it has to be to die for.

“And knowing where stuff comes from, for the majority, is not to die for. We’ve got to get over this belief. We want to believe that people care, that everyone cares. No they don’t. Some people do, but you need to know who they are, where they shop, why they shop and how provenance matters to them.

MORE: With Brexit just 50 days away, how confident are Norfolk farmers about the future?

“It doesn’t matter equally to everybody. In the same way, do you spray the same chemical on every field to get the same result? Of course you don’t, so why do you categorise and pigeonhole consumers in this way?”

Mr Fearne said convenience had become an increasing factor, with online options adding to shoppers’ choices.

“72pc of shoppers are shopping around to get the best deal,” he said. “They are not shopping around to find where the Red Tractor is or to see if there is a Leaf marque. Three seconds – that’s how long it takes on average for consumers to decide which chicken they are going to buy.”

MORE: Farming’s tech revolution can only succeed if we get Brexit right, says MP

Also speaking at the conference was Andrew Saunders, director of Tulip Agriculture and managing director of Dalehead Foods.

He said the market place was changing dramatically for the companies’ pork products, with £1 in every £7 spent expected to be in a discount store such as Lidl or Aldi by 2022, and the growth of online and “click and collect” services.

He said shoppers of the future will be more health conscious, and more aware of the traceability and environmental sustainability of their food and its packaging.

In response, the business has developed added-value meat products with new flavours and garnishes, a range of snacks with receivable packaging, and a slow-cooked meal, cooked for 12 hours, which the consumer can re-heat in 20 minutes – reflecting the demand for taste and quality, but also the time constraints of modern life.

“We are seeing more and more interest in the story around the product,” he said. “To a retailer, quality is absolute. We have had ‘Premium’ ranges, but we have gone beyond that now, we need to provide Premium Plus.”

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