October 26, 2016

Fear-Based Food Marketing; Not Only for the Rich & Famous

Recently at a food blogging conference, I conversed with several foodie’s who repeatedly asked me production questions about my farm, how we raise our livestock and what we feed them. Then proceeded to question my family's production decisions, “Are you really telling me the truth?”.

But Whole Foods only has meat that is grass-fed and organic – so that is what you should be raising, right?” said a food blogger.

We proceeded to have a conversation about the “fear-based marketing” that retailers like Whole Foods has, merely to increase prices. It’s their business model. Making money based on fear. I proceeded to tell her that the beef my family raises could likely end up in Whole Foods or Safeway or a local grocery store and each store/chain will label it how they want – even though I raised it all the same here on my ranch.

This idea of fear-based marketing is not new to me, or probably to you. Retailers, restaurants and certain “self-proclaimed” know-it-alls…ahem, Food Babe, have been labeling and marketing their products in a way to make a certain production practices seem more humane or better for your health, while also jacking up the price.

But what I found interesting was that it is not just the upper (or even middle) class who are falling for these marketing ploys anymore. The Illinois Institute of Technology’s Center for Nutrition Research recently performed a research study, surveying 510 low-income shoppers about what types of information influences their shopping decisions regarding fruits and vegetables. The results concluded that in general, participants preferred organic fruits and vegetables; however, cost was a significant barrier to purchase them. Informational statements about organic and conventional fruits and vegetables did not increase participants' likelihood to purchase more.

Here’s the kicker -- in contrast, messages naming specific fruits and vegetables with pesticides shifted participants toward “less likely” to purchase any type of fruits and vegetables regardless whether organically or conventionally grown. The results provide insight about how low-income people view fruits and vegetables and how communications may influence their future purchase intentions.

Another study that focused on low-income consumers was performed at John Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future in January of 2015. The respondents in this study included organic--or common characteristics of organic food--in their definition of healthy food, even though many of them did not have access to organic foods due to poor availability and affordability.

Now, even though this is just fruits and vegetables, I’m pretty confident that a follow-up survey about meats, grains and GMOs would produce similar results. We can’t just claim that the top 10% of consumers – namely Whole Foods customers – are the only ones drinking the Kool-Aid and wanting certain production practices based on fear of that practice because it’s deemed ‘healthier’ for them and they can afford it. It’s all up and down the socio-economic pipeline.

This should be a wake-up call for those of us raising food. We can’t just keep doing what we’re doing. We need to talk about it. And share it. Then share it again. Different people will see what we are doing, why we are raising food that way and start a revolution that should happen when people are making choices about something that is so personal and emotional to them.

To wrap-up my time at the food blog conference, I had several, meaningful conversations with the bloggers about how food is really raised. Most of them had never been on farms and had just relied on their friends, family or ‘Whole Foods’ to tell them how food was - and should - be raised. Just a simple conversation changed their perspective – and likely their friends, family and most importantly, their blog following – about modern food production.

What are you doing today to defend your right to raise food the way you do?

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