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Mixed Messages From Consumers

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Once again, consumer trends seem to be rather confusing. Countless studies have shown that folks certainly think they know what they want, really cannot afford it and then go buy something altogether different. In a recently released study focusing on food needs for the year 2020, consumers clearly wanted someone else to be responsible for their food safety.

While corporations in the study responded that they are focused on food safety and security, which is what one would think consumers would want, consumer respondents lashed out, saying that those corporations should be focused on obesity and food shortages. I fail to understand how a food-processing company is responsible for my choice of food and my weight. It is interesting though and does bring to our attention that food shortages are on the minds of North American families.

Later in the survey, consumer respondents contradicted themselves by saying they wanted healthy and safe food and that was the responsibility of the corporate food company. What became clear in the muddled responses were the buyer not only wanted food to be safe but also wished for that to happen in an environment that follows their values. Furthermore, that is what they suggest they would happily pay for.

Survey respondents concerned themselves with company values (or perceived company values) and now hold that same food company responsible for their own well-being. We see the importance of this consumer trend as Wal-Mart has just announced a store-wide environmental labelling program in response to the buying consumer who is focused on the concept of “green” goods. If perception is reality, then this is the case in point.

Interestingly, on the subject of healthy food, respondents complained food that was good for you was also a drag to eat. So we need taste, value, health, and corporate accountability.


No problem, it is all doable but the question remains – who pays? And if the consumers say that is what they want – will they actually step up to the plate and part with the cash? To be fair, some are truly putting their money where their mouth is as is evident in the strong sales of organic product. But for the majority we know the situation is much different. The current data in Canada suggests that 48 per cent of consumers shop for food at discount stores, and that consumer base is retired, about to retire, under-or unemployed or new to Canada in the past five years. In Canada 20 per cent of the population is over the age of 65 and that is expected to increase to 40 per cent by the year 2020.

No one has escaped the scrutiny of the value shopper. Most recent data shows that 35 per cent of all consumers have stopped buying national brands for the cheaper store brand – an event the big names of the world are not immune to as even the most recognized brand in the world, Coca Cola, reported a slippage of 23 per cent to cheaper soft drinks.

There is no doubt that consumer buying patterns are changing. It is also abundantly clear that what they tell us they want, they can no longer afford and yet they wish for a safe, tasty, affordable, healthy and abundant supply of food produced and processed in an environmentally acceptable way. They don’t have the money to force this with their buying power so for the first time in this decade, they are forcing these changes by not buying.

A friend once said that wherever you go in the world, most folks recognize value. If we boil it all down and try to form a strategy, perhaps the best marketing still lies in understanding the core values of the client, being transparent in the core values of the food producer, processor and retail company and simply delivering good value for the dollar.

Brenda Schoepp is a market analyst and the owner and author of BEEFLINK, a national beef cattle market newsletter. A professional speaker and industry market and research consultant, she ranches near Rimbey,[email protected]

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