Eric Brown
The Fence Post

Ag experts: Meeting the food demands of consumers today, tomorrow no easy task

The state’s agriculture industry convened Thursday in Denver to discuss ways of better connecting with consumers now and into the future — when food buyers will be far different than they were just a few years ago.

It’ll be no easy task, they were basically told.

Many left the Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture with more questions than answers.

As was noted by industry experts who spoke, many of today’s consumers put value on food that’s “local,” or “organic,” or “naturally raised,” or “anti-biotic free,” or “cage-free,” although many food buyers admit confusion regarding the details of those labels — and also reveal they’re only willing to pay so much more for it.

“They want it all, and they want it at a fair price,” said Dawn Thilmany, a Colorado State University professor and economist, who shared results from a state survey on food consumers.

Bottom line, Thilmany and others noted: “There is no typical consumer anymore.”

Added Alan Reed with Dairy Management Inc., who shared results from a different, nationwide consumer survey, “the era of mass marketing is over. Everybody wants the product they want ... and delivered by a company ‘that totally gets me.’”

Those talks were part of the annual, all-day ag forum this year, titled “Farm To Table,” which brought together state ag officials, experts and farmers and ranchers, and featured a brief speech from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Among the other facts and figures shared by Reed, Thilmany and others:

• The U.S. population that’s 55 and older will grow by 45 percent by 2020, while the number of people in the 18 and younger will decrease by about 8 percent in that time.

• By 2020, 75 percent of the population is expected to be overweight.

• The obesity rate will double, 20 percent of the population is expected to have arthritis, 40 percent will have heart disease and 50 percent will have diabetes.

“And all of this will impact how we market our products,” he said.

Also, men are expected to be the primary grocery shopper of the household by 2020. Right now, just 31 percent of men are the primary grocery shopper in the household, Reed noted.

Reed also spoke of the “loss of the middle.” People today, and likely into the future, either want gourmet food or something really cheap, he said.

“There are a lot of ag products that go into Kraft Mac And Cheese ... but no one’s really eating things like that any more,” he noted.

Dieting has changed, he added.

Everyone’s overstressed — “but not everyone wants 5-hour Energy. They want something else,” he said.

People are having less kids, and parents want to be friends with their kids — and as a result, are changing how they feed them.

People snack more now. Reed’s survey results showed only 17 percent of people don’t snack, and some snack as many as five times per day.

People don’t trust products — they trust brands, he added.

Technology, too, is changing.

Average appliances soon will include refrigerators that keep track of inventory and make grocery lists. In South Korea, smart phones scan food billboards at train stations that automatically charge consumers for wanted items, and then have that food delivered to their homes by the time they get home.

“We must do a better job understanding the needs out there and how they’re changing,” he said. “It’s going to take a multi-faceted, personalized approach. We have to immerse ourselves into the consumer experience.”

“But there’s always room for new products,” Reed added. ❖

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The Fence Post Updated Mar 17, 2014 12:14PM Published Mar 8, 2014 08:59AM Copyright 2014 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.