Monday, January 19, 2009

Do Men Pay More for "Local?"

Last week I attended the Mid-Atlantic Direct Marketing Conference. One of the sessions I attended was on positioning your market for the 'buy local' crowd. One speaker described the typical market segments that a farm market has. An interesting observation the speaker had was that men were more willing to pay higher prices for food labeled "local" than women were.

He conjectured that there were a couple of reasons for this. First, since men typically don't do the food shopping, they are not as familiar with food prices. Therefore, they are willing to pay any price just to make sure they bring home what they have been told to buy. Second, men feel the need to not appear price conscious. So, if a pint of berries is priced at $8.00, they are more likely to buy it regardless so as to appear financially able and to impress those he comes in contact with.

While this is an interesting observation, and perhaps true, it offers the direct marketer a new set of challenges. Since men do not typically do the food shopping, how does one lure them in? Perhaps, as with a jewelry store I have heard advertisements for, the direct marketer offers special "men only" events. And once men do make a purchase, how do marketers draw them back once their spouses see what they have paid?

What are your thoughts? Do men pay more for "local" foods? Are they a viable market segment for direct farm marketers?

Friday, January 16, 2009

School lunch programs getting health boost with natural and organic ingredients

School lunch programs around the country are getting makeovers. The National Farm to School program states that a fresh produce movement started about 10 years ago in a few California schools and has grown in a 39 state program with over 2,000 school districts as members. According to the National Farm to School program website, the National Farm to School program "connects schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving school nutrition, providing health and nutrition opportunities that will last a lifetime, and supporting local farmers."

School districts are not only looking for local foods, but they are also looking for organic. For example, a school district in Olympia, WA has implemented a junk food ban and is recommending organic foods in their cafeterias. Unfortunately, cost is the single greatest hurdle to implementing organic programs in more schools. Generally, organic foods cost more for farmers to produce (hence greater cost to the schools) due to annual organic certification costs as well as expensive pest control and fertilizing methods because cheaper synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are prohibited in organic farming.

To help farmers off-set annual organic certification costs, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the USDA has implemented a cost-share assistance program for farmers in all states, US territories, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The AMS has allotted $1.5 million in fiscal 2008 (October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009) for this program. According to the USDA, the money is predominantly geared toward smaller farms so that they will be able to meet the standards developed by the National Organic Program. The assistance will be limited to 75% of an individual producer's certification costs with a maximum of $750.

As a farmer, have you thought about growing organically but the cost of annual certification makes your production unprofitable? Do you think the cost-share program will be a big help to farmers or do you think it's not that big of a help? After reading about the school lunch program, do you think you could market your products to local schools?

Organic school lunches program article

Organic certification cost-share article

Monday, January 5, 2009

Canada to ban baby bottles with bisphenol A

Bisphenol A is being outlawed in baby bottles in Canada. Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to make shatterproof plastic frequently used in baby bottles. Also, Canada is looking to limit the amount of BPA being released in the environment.

Why is BPA being banned in Canada? Health Canada scientists (Canadian version of the FDA) have concluded that BPA exposure to infants is below levels that may cause a risk, but the gap between exposure and effect wasn't great enough. Consequently, the Canadian government is looking to reduce the exposure of BPA in newborns and infants.

The FDA immediately began assessing the BPA research after Canada announced its ban on BPA in baby bottles. The FDA has concluded that products containing BPA are safe and exposure levels from food packaging are below those that may cause health effects.

What do you think? Do you agree with Health Canada and err on the side of caution? Or, do you agree with the FDA that there is nothing to worry about? If you use bottles made with BPA to package your ag product, are you concerned about possible regulations on your packaging? If you are a producer looking at packaging for your product, does the Canadian ban affect your packaging decision?

Bisphenol A article