It’s difficult to watch the news and social media without seeing commentary from popular bloggers, ads from chain restaurants, messages from big grocery retailers, comments from the agriculture sector and even claims from Dr. Oz regarding the right or wrong way to produce, source, label and eat food. It’s exhausting. It’s confusing. It changes every day. All of these conversations, accusations, and rhetoric make consumers question the integrity of experts, retailers and farmers. And, why wouldn’t it?
The Sexy Food Messaging Chipotle Effect
Chipotle claims they have “Food with Integrity”. What they fail to mention, is that the integrity they talk about happens when it’s convenient, and when it’s profitable for them. From a business perspective – there’s nothing wrong with that. However, they don’t talk about what’s really going on. It’s a dangerous campaign that contributes to consumers not trusting the message of where and how the ingredients in their burritos are produced. Fortunately, consumers and producers have a voice. They asked some questions, provided proof and now Chipotle’s sexy food source messaging integrity has come into question. More recently, they are under-fire due to their procurement of beef from Australia instead of the U.S.
The Is It Really Gluten-Free Effect
A few weeks ago, there was a thread on Facebook regarding gluten-free oats. It started as a “gluten-free is just a hoax and dumb trend” type of discussion. Then, a grain producer spoke up saying it was not financially feasible to produce 100% gluten-free oats in a typical operation, and he was confident that even if a producer claimed that he had 100% gluten-free oats, there were probably some disinfecting short cuts that occurred. This upset a mother, who has a gluten-free house due to actual medical reasons. It was proof enough for her to be leery of growers and messaging. Her take-away was, what else are farmers hiding? It had nothing to do with her gluten-free choice. It had to do with integrity.
Farmers and Integrity
Farmers take a massive amount of pride providing safe and plentiful food. If there is a short-cut on the farm like mixing some seed to finish a field, using an off label input application, filling a heavy truck, using a planter that’s not as clean as it should be because the rain is coming and there just isn’t time – it all seems small and justified and has been done 100 times before. The farmer sees the big picture, and understands the risks, most of which are extremely minimal. However, consumers don’t know that. They don’t understand why these thing happen, they don’t understand the consequences and it’s scary to them. And as farmers, we need to respect that.
Consumers not only see through the short cuts and questionable messages and labels, but they are now in the business to call out producers and companies who waver in the slightest. Consumers don’t care about the impact of the farm, of the retailer or the restaurant if they find out that they’re being deceived.
Trusting The System
It’s not that a production practice or food choice is better or worse. It’s about being open and honest – and doing it with 100% integrity. It’s not always easy – the sale might be missed, the days might be long, some yield may be lost, the margin might be down and customers might be upset. With that said, it’s much easier to sleep at night when you know you did the right thing. It’s much easier to look in your customers eyes, and in the consumers face when you explain the real process and real reasoning of how your product was produced – even if it’s not perfect. Honesty is always more important than perfection when it comes to food information.
You also can be at ease when these smart and ambitious consumers – who have a copious amount of information (some of it is questionable at best) at their finger-tips can no longer poke holes through your claims. Eventually, with some hard work and complete diligence and transparency on our part, consumers might actually start to trust the system.
At the end of the day, you say what it is, and it IS what it IS.