Thursday, May 9, 2013

How Do We Meet Consumer Food Expectations and Demands?

by John Berry, Extension Educator, Lehigh County

As I explore conditions with which "my" direct-to-consumer farm marketer clients manage their enterprises, the most frequently noted comments center on understanding the changing and apparently flexible nature of consumer expectations.  Sometimes, we expect our buyer to think and act similar to ourselves. Often, they do not.

Looking at recent research on consumer purchasing behavior we came across the below summary. This USDA summary compares how consumer buying behavior compares to scientific food use recommendations. The article titled Americans' Food Choices at Home and Away: How Do They Compare With Recommendations? offers the following highlights:
  • Grocery purchase data reveal that consumers underspend on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and overspend on refined grains, fats, and sugars/sweets, compared with USDA food plan recommendations, a pattern that showed little change from 1998 to 2006.
  • Food consumption data point to an even bigger challenge to improving diet quality: away-from-home foods now account for one-third of daily caloric intake, and they are not as healthful as at-home foods.
  • New government and private industry initiatives to make food labels and point-of-purchase information ore relevant, understandable, and motivating may help consumers choose more healthful foods.

For us direct-to-consumer farm marketers - this study (and others) makes me wonder how to best promote the safe nutritious foods available at our markets. The challenge may be the "more relevant, understandable, and motivating" concept made in the 3rd bullet point above.  Let's look at how we might enhance customer communications efforts to reassure and reach these vital business partners.

  1. Relevance - consumers have more than enough places to receive product knowledge and products. Our main task is to stay up-to-date with what our current (and potential) customers' desire and then communicating product benefits in a casual, non-intrusive manner.
  2. Understandable - we can turn to the dictionary here for a straight-forward look at how to approach shaping our customer buying habits. The Webster's dictionary offers the following when describing "understandable": accessible, coherent, graspable, legible, decipherable; plain, simple, fluent, well-spoken. All these descriptive words suggest the use of words, concepts and calls to action that are at the reading and comprehension level appropriate for our expected shoppers. There may be little need for industry jargon and fancy terms.
  3. Motivating - consumers have a wide range of factors affecting what drives their food purchasing habits. It can be a continuous struggle between what I believe is significant and what I believe is within my means. Understanding and motivating the purchasing activity within your market can be quite powerful.
The challenges of effective retail farm marketing atop all the other business management challenges are often immense. However, they are not insurmountable. When we focus some of our time on a better understanding of the constantly evolving state inside our customers' heads we are better prepared to influence their purchasing behaviors. As we reassure and motivate our buyers we stand to have a more positive experience ourselves.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Real-Time Monitoring of Your Farm Equipment

Farmers rely on their equipment everyday to run their farms.  It's imperative to have good data on how each piece of equipment is used and how much it costs to operate in order to optimize machinery to it's fullest potential (read more about machinery optimization in my past post).  

To collect data in real-time, AgCo has developed AgCommand, a device that collects data about a specific piece of equipment and delivers the information via a cellular modem and GPS in the device to the AgCommand website.  The website gives reports that track engine hours, fuel consumption, operator efficiency, equipment health info, and field-specific machine information. Reports can be used to monitor and control operating costs and for planning, billing, and maintenance scheduling.  This kind of information would be very helpful in making decisions on how to best use your machinery.

Figure 1.  Example map of a farmer's land and an AgCommand report on the working time of a piece of equipment.

Another great feature of the AgCommand system is geofencing.  As Farm Industry News describes it, geofencing "allows the user to build a virtual fence around equipment using GPS coordinates. So when equipment leaves the fenced-in area, the telematics system sends a text message or e-mail alert. This can help avert theft, or simply let you know that your planter, sprayer, or combine has finished work in a field and is moving on to the next. Similarly, telematics curfews can alert you when a machine is started after working hours."  

As a farm business owner, have you ever heard of or used the AgCommand system or something similar?  Are you willing to try this new technology?  Of all of the reports and information generated by the system, what is of greatest importance to you?  Can you think of any other data not mentioned here that you would like a system like this to collect?  Are you ready to embrace this new technology?