Insights

Better communication can bridge growing divide between food producers and consumers

Posted by
Katie Heydon
Insights

Better communication can bridge growing divide between food producers and consumers

Écrit par
Katie Heydon

What started as a playful tweet from cookbook author Julie Van Rosendaal has spread into a hot-button news story, inspiring cheeky puns from media all over the globe.

‘Buttergate’ has blown up as Canadians continue to question why their butter no longer softens, and for farmers, food producers and manufacturers, it should serve as a hard lesson in just how quickly consumers can inspire industry action in the age of social media.  

A ‘buttergate’ explainer

For the uninitiated, the working theory is that due to a higher demand for butter during the pandemic – up 12% in 2020 – farmers stepped up their use of a palm oil derivative in cow feed to boost milk production. Little research has been done on the impact of palm oil in dairy, but experts say butter made from cows fed with palm oil has a higher melting point and is subsequently harder to spread at room temperature.  

While all this is conjecture at this point, the Dairy Farmers of Canada have launched an investigation in response to consumer concerns, and the Quebec Dairy Producers lobby has called on farmers to stop supplementing cattle feed with palm-based products (a decades-old practice) pending the investigation’s results.  

Growing power of consumers

This now international news story on Canadian dairy farming practices all started with a tweet, showing the growing power of ultra-informed consumers in an online world.  

When I started my career in food and agriculture marketing almost two decades ago, consumers were satisfied with the illusion of transparency. I remember taking journalists on countless manicured farm tours, and who could forget McDonald’s highly-successful “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign, which shared greater details on the company’s food production process, yet still didn't provide a true look into the process.  

But this simplistic farm-to-table approach is not enough in 2021. Influencers – whether mommy bloggers or celebrity chefs – are now driving conversations and shaping the industry. Consumers are more educated on farming practices and ingredients. They’re no longer satisfied with a glimpse behind the curtain, they want to stage the entire play.  

It has changed from ‘farm-to-table’ to ‘table-to-farm.’

Communicating with customers

To be successful in this new world, farmers, food producers, and manufacturers must be more transparent with consumers by communicating relevant facts and information about their practices and products that go far past the usual surface-level marketing fluff. Consumers, investors, and governments alike are also interested in hearing from the sector on big global topics of relevance such as climate change.

No more sitting Canadians at the kids table, so to speak. Those in the agricultural space need to open a two-way discourse by taking the following steps:

  • Track consumer trends before they hit. Use social listening tools to understand what customers want and then fill that void with information.  
  • Always ask the question, “What’s in it for the consumer?” Innovation can make all the sense in the world for those immersed in the food and agribusiness sector, but it must connect with customer needs.  
  • Mind the 'authenticity gap'. When what you say about yourself matches what consumers say about you, you can create authentic engagement with your audience, build a competitive advantage, and insulate your brand from potential issues down the road.  

Today, transparency is table stakes. At FHR, we have been working with the food and agribusiness sector for a long time and we know what it takes to bridge the divide between producers and consumers. If you’re hungry to build meaningful connections with your customers, we can help you build an always-on, multi-channel communications approach that informs, entertains and delights.

Contact us here.

What started as a playful tweet from cookbook author Julie Van Rosendaal has spread into a hot-button news story, inspiring cheeky puns from media all over the globe.

‘Buttergate’ has blown up as Canadians continue to question why their butter no longer softens, and for farmers, food producers and manufacturers, it should serve as a hard lesson in just how quickly consumers can inspire industry action in the age of social media.  

A ‘buttergate’ explainer

For the uninitiated, the working theory is that due to a higher demand for butter during the pandemic – up 12% in 2020 – farmers stepped up their use of a palm oil derivative in cow feed to boost milk production. Little research has been done on the impact of palm oil in dairy, but experts say butter made from cows fed with palm oil has a higher melting point and is subsequently harder to spread at room temperature.  

While all this is conjecture at this point, the Dairy Farmers of Canada have launched an investigation in response to consumer concerns, and the Quebec Dairy Producers lobby has called on farmers to stop supplementing cattle feed with palm-based products (a decades-old practice) pending the investigation’s results.  

Growing power of consumers

This now international news story on Canadian dairy farming practices all started with a tweet, showing the growing power of ultra-informed consumers in an online world.  

When I started my career in food and agriculture marketing almost two decades ago, consumers were satisfied with the illusion of transparency. I remember taking journalists on countless manicured farm tours, and who could forget McDonald’s highly-successful “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign, which shared greater details on the company’s food production process, yet still didn't provide a true look into the process.  

But this simplistic farm-to-table approach is not enough in 2021. Influencers – whether mommy bloggers or celebrity chefs – are now driving conversations and shaping the industry. Consumers are more educated on farming practices and ingredients. They’re no longer satisfied with a glimpse behind the curtain, they want to stage the entire play.  

It has changed from ‘farm-to-table’ to ‘table-to-farm.’

Communicating with customers

To be successful in this new world, farmers, food producers, and manufacturers must be more transparent with consumers by communicating relevant facts and information about their practices and products that go far past the usual surface-level marketing fluff. Consumers, investors, and governments alike are also interested in hearing from the sector on big global topics of relevance such as climate change.

No more sitting Canadians at the kids table, so to speak. Those in the agricultural space need to open a two-way discourse by taking the following steps:

  • Track consumer trends before they hit. Use social listening tools to understand what customers want and then fill that void with information.  
  • Always ask the question, “What’s in it for the consumer?” Innovation can make all the sense in the world for those immersed in the food and agribusiness sector, but it must connect with customer needs.  
  • Mind the 'authenticity gap'. When what you say about yourself matches what consumers say about you, you can create authentic engagement with your audience, build a competitive advantage, and insulate your brand from potential issues down the road.  

Today, transparency is table stakes. At FHR, we have been working with the food and agribusiness sector for a long time and we know what it takes to bridge the divide between producers and consumers. If you’re hungry to build meaningful connections with your customers, we can help you build an always-on, multi-channel communications approach that informs, entertains and delights.

Contact us here.

Katie Heydon
Senior Vice President
With a deep background in food and consumer health communications, Katie has been helping clients share their farm to fork stories to audiences both in the UK and Canada for over 15 years. A leader within the FH global food, beverage and agribusiness sector, Katie is sought after to help brands demonstrate leadership through thoughtful and insightful storytelling.