Owen Roberts teaches communications at the University of Guelph where he's held the position of director of research communications for more than 25 years. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Animal Biosciences.
Blog: www.urbancowboy.ca // Twitter: @TheUrbanCowboy
The pivotal role of retailers as a vital link between farm and fork is skyrocketing.
In June, a new organization called the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity was launched. It’s an arm of Farm and Food Care, mandated to “help expand upon the shared vision of building public trust and confidence in today's food system in Canada.”
The centre is designed to be a resource for the free flow of information about the food we eat, and just as importantly, for information about food’s origins -- that is, about the farms and farmers who produce it.
The US has a similar centre, and it’s garnered a lot of headlines by quantifying how Americans view their food supply, and by trying to counterbalance food myths with food facts.
In Canada, to get the ball rolling, the centre needed to know where Canadians stand in terms of that trust and confidence. So it conducted a survey of more than 2,500 Canadians, asking them questions that would reveal their feelings.
Based on its findings, help is needed pretty well everywhere…and by everyone in the value chain, including retailers.
For example, the research shows more than 90 per cent of Canadians admit to knowing little about farming or food production. That’s more than 31 million people! And it means only one out of every 10 customers you deal with has even some idea of where food comes from, and how it’s produced. And that leaves them wide open to interpretation and misinformation by those who don’t have your best interests or livelihood at heart.
As well, more than half of those surveyed said they don’t really know if the food system is going in the right direction. That’s understandable…if it’s being driven by people whose agendas are based on driving the livestock sector – and everyone associated with it -- out of business, how can consumers be expected to think all’s well with the system?
However, a glimmer of encouragement arose from the survey, too.
The centre's research also shows 60 per cent of Canadians want more information about their food. They haven’t thrown in the towel or abandoned ship in favour of some nutrition fad or food guru. They just want to know what’s going on not only behind the scenes, but in front of their very eyes.
And that’s not only reasonable, it’s good for business. As Farm and Food Care CEO Crystal Mackay says, “the time is now to open up more dialogue and increase opportunities for credible conversations about our food in Canada.”
This all means you have a chance to position yourself as a knowledge broker, an intermediary between farmers and consumers, a source of information for some 20 million Canadians – the 60 per cent who are seeking information about the products you sell.
It increases retailers’ value to customers – they’re looking for information about something they hold dear, yet know little about, and want to learn. As a retailer, you have the knowledge they seek, either in your head or at hand in the form of information from sources such as Ontario Pork or the University of Guelph, when it comes to the likes of livestock production, food safety and quality, animal welfare and nutrition.
Odds are most consumers don’t know a farmer. You are their conduit to basic food production. It seems to me that as a retailer, that’s an amazing opportunity.