Page 15 - December2018
P. 15

Will Technology
Fuel Food Connections?
by jim prevor, editor-in-chief, produce business
British politician William Vernon Harcourt declared, “We are all socialists now.” Nobel Prize winning
economist Milton Friedman declared, “We are all Keynesians now.” Peter Mandelson, former director of media relations for the British Labour party, declared, “We are all Thatcherites now.”
Today, Susie Fogelson of Fogelson & Co., declares, “We are all Food Connected Consumers.”
Well, maybe not quite ALL, but quite a lot. According to Fogelson’s research, Food Connected Consumers represent two-thirds of the relevant market. It is a little hard to understand what characteristics exactly distin- guish the Food Connected Consumer from what we used to call a Foodie, and many of the traits identi ed by her could be a result of technological change more than any passion for food.
Back in the 1960s, my mother used to read Good Housekeeping and similar magazines in order to  nd recipes and cooking ideas. Did that make her a foodie? I don’t think so.
Equally, the fact that people “look online for recipes and cooking ideas” or that 56 percent of them watch food shows on TV, Net ix or YouTube may just tell us more about how people get information today than about their deep food-related passion. If you want a recipe today, a lot of people whip out their iPad, because one can search for recipes online more ef ciently than scrambling through old magazines.
It is also hard to judge the signi cance of many of these things, as there is no point of comparison. When 75 percent of Food Connected Consumers say they “doctor or change recipes to suit their needs,” we nether know historically whether this is a change — my grandmother did this — and we don’t even know to what degree non-Food Connected Consumers do this as they were not studied!
It is also hard to know what signi cance to give this study as the research was not adjusted to mirror the U.S. population. Ideally, you want to make sure that the survey respon-
Telling the story is relatively easy, but knowing how to motivate consumers to invest their valuable time in learning the story before buying a lemon for 49 cents is going to require a lot more research.
dents mirror the country as a whole ethni- cally, religiously, income-wise and on other variables.
When it comes to the desire expressed by Food Connected Consumers to know where their food comes from — a desire alleged to be so strong it is expressed by an almost unheard of 100 percent of FCC respondents — the question is whether this is just an expression of aspirational desire — a re ection of a belief they should want to know this — or whether in some tangible and important way, it is changing buying habits.
Though it is very possible that people say, “They care about who the people (companies) are behind the food, what they stand for and how they’re making the world a better place, because they care about where they spend their money,” it is hard to corelate this with any known spending pattern. Walmart is, by far, the largest food retailer in America; Aldi is the fastest-growing; and Amazon is the leader in online. The  rst two are discounters, and there is an article in the paper every day alleging tough labor practices at Amazon.
When people say things that are so divorced from what they are actually doing, the job of the researcher is to ask why this is so.
Lots more research needs to be done here, but, as best as we can see, the problem is that asking people whether they care about “making the world a better place” is not a neutral question. They can either say, ‘yes,’ and be a good person and responsible citizen, or they can say, ‘no,’ they are more interested in saving money on their groceries so they can go on a vacation to the Caribbean this year
but be seen as a sel sh, shallow human being. It is almost certainly true that people are increasingly “food explorers,” but we would guess that this is less a function of any great change in people’s attitudes than it is a change in the environment and thus the opportunities available to people. When the Chinese, Italian or eastern European Jewish immigrants came to America — and they opened Chinese restaurants, Italian restau- rants and Jewish delis in major urban areas — the restaurants adapted their dishes to mainstream American taste pro les and
people enjoyed the food.
The difference now is that ethnic diversity is
broader, with more people from more diverse places, and that immigrants have moved more into the center of the country. Whereas boats laden with immigrants had to land in harbor towns, a plane today can land in Orlando or Atlanta as easily as New York or Miami. Of course, the Internet, TV, etc., have all served to expose consumers to many types of foods, and services such as Amazon have made many foods available all across the country.
It is probably true that if one can get a consumer to pay attention to your whole product story, this will sway many consumers to buy.
What is left unexplored is how much time consumers will devote to evaluating relatively inexpensive products, such as most foods. Already the Internet is  lled with lots of infor- mation, and very few consumers bother to access it. Telling the story is relatively easy, but knowing how to motivate consumers to invest their valuable time in learning the story before buying a lemon for 49 cents is going to require a lot more research.

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