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Not just the latest fad

It might be tempting to just assume consumer concerns are the natural hangover from recent food safety scares. But that would be a mistake, says Kevin Stewart of AgvisionTV.com.

In fact, it’s part of a long-term trend, closely correlated with the aging baby boomer generation. They want to live longer, healthier lives, and they see their diet as one of the few places where they can exert any control. They’re also thinking of their legacy to their children and grandchildren and wholesome food products resonate with them.

“This isn’t the latest fad like the Atkins diet that’s come and gone,” Stewart said after his keynote address at Brandon. “This is something much more profound and I don’t see it going away.”

Interest in speciality food products such as organics has grown so large, even grocery chains such as Safeway and Loblaws are devoting significant resources to serving the market, he noted – and it’s a trend that farmers will ignore at their own peril.

“If you want to talk about mainstream, the organic display in my local Loblaws is enormous,” he said. “We’re starting to see a trend, and we’ve got to be aware of it.”

Consumers, many of whom believe they have the power to move food company policy, won’t respond well to business as usual – which is unfortunate because many farmers are stuck in an old mindset, he said.

“For a long time the attitude was ‘There’s no point in communicating with consumers because they don’t know where the food comes from and they don’t care – all they care about is price,’” Stewart said.

The latest consumer surveys, however, show food safety scares and recalls seem to have tipped the balance. For the first time, food safety and similar issues outscore price and even freshness in the eyes of consumers, he said.

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Gord Gilmour

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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