Marketing Matters

Elevating the Heroes Behind Our Harvest

The produce industry should search for new ways to bridge the gap between consumers and the origins of their food.

By Dawn Gray

‘I farm, you eat!’ Well, that may not sound like a very compelling story no matter how true. 

Having worked with growers and producers for more than 30 years, I’m a passionate advocate for those who grow, produce, pack and deliver our food. I’ve often thought that now that we lionize celebrity chefs, it’s time to do the same for producers. 

So how can we connect consumers more deeply with the food they enjoy? Over my career, I’ve seen the incredible impact of putting growers in stores to demo the products that they produce. Now that’s not always possible of course. We put growers’ names and faces on packaged produce, but is that really a connection? Do consumers even notice that there is a “story” on their bag of apples, oranges or potatoes?

According to Innova Market Insights, transparency is Innova’s No. 1  trend. They go on to report that people have always been interested in what goes into their food. In fact, 85% report this is of major importance to them. As well as knowing what is in their food, consumers are significantly interested in understanding where it has come from with 59% saying they are somewhat or very interested. 

One campaign I thought was particularly clever was way back when QR codes were a new thing. The New Zealand company Icebreaker sells natural Merino wool clothing. They added a QR code that they called a “baaaah code.” When you scanned the code you were taken to what was described as the sheep that gave up their wool to create your garment. 

Hmm, could we introduce consumers to growers through a QR code? Most producers I know are too busy just dealing with the realities of farming to think about how amazing their stories are. So often they are multi-generational stories. They produce healthy, tasty and nutritious produce in some of the most beautiful places on earth.  

They are more than muddy boots, using some pretty remarkable technology (think covered Ag). I remember taking my parents through a tomato greenhouse—they still talk about it to anyone who will listen. 

Post Covid all consumers now have a better appreciation of the supply chain and just how fragile it can be. Remember “no toilet paper?”

When I am talking with people who do not work in “the biz,” they are always interested and always astounded at what it takes to put fruits and vegetables on their plates at home or in a restaurant. 

‘Buy Local’ has a nice feel to it, but what about producers in countries where they must access a global market to survive? They are equally good stewards of the earth. 

I’ve often said that to be a farmer you have to be part artist, part scientist and mostly riverboat gambler. And let me tell you, I’ve been blessed to meet some remarkable men and women—some real characters that are worth knowing. So, my challenge to all of us who benefit from their hard work is to find a more compelling way to share their stories. I promise, people are interested and will pay attention. 

How about a series of stories under the “I farm .. you eat” moniker that elevates these real-life superheroes who grow all those fruits and vegetables we love to the celebrity status they deserve? As a self-confessed addict of food-related TV shows, there is plenty of room for these brilliant stories. I’ve got the first episodes ready to go. 

  • Dawn Gray has over 36 years of international fresh produce experience working with growers, distributors, marketers and retailers in over 25 countries.