Innovation in ag: Doornbos speaker encourages value-added marketingWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Casper – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theorizes that people strive to meet basic needs first, followed by growth needs such as self-actualization.
“The base needs are food, water and shelter. We move our way up from there. In the United States of America, too many people think we’re still at the base level, but we are not. We are a very well off country,” argued Damian Mason on March 2, speaking in Casper at the annual Doornbos lecture series at Casper College.
“We need to stop appealing to the base level and realize that as people move their way up, they start worrying about things like purpose and cause,” he added.
In general, the American consumer wants to help the environment, end animal cruelty and make a positive difference in the world.
“We have room to sell the story in the business of ag,” Mason claimed.
To illustrate his point, Mason described the concept of Toms brand shoes. Toms promises consumers that for every pair of shoes they buy, the company will donate a pair of shoes to someone in a third world country.
“Millennials want to believe they are part of something good, more than any other generation. Millennials are great kids. They are technically competent, conscientious, money saving people but they’ve been told about this social consciousness and how they can do something good for the world,” he explained.
Mason argued that spending $35 on a box of shoes from Goodwill to send to a third world country doesn’t earn the same social credit as spending that same $35 on Toms and being recognized as someone who cares when other people notice the brand.
“Social consciousness sells,” he stated.
Chipotle and Starbucks use similar marketing techniques, promising pasture-raised animals and fair trade coffee.
“Instead of a burrito for $1.99 at Taco Bell, a burrito at Chipotle sells for $3.99. If we want to sell social consciousness, it pays very well. I think ag needs to learn from this,” he remarked.
Packaging is another evolving trend in food markets, with more clear packages on store shelves, revealing the product underneath.
“When I was a kid, manufacturers didn’t want clear packages because the consumer would see the imperfections. That’s all changed. The consumer now wants to see clear packaging because it gives the image that it is a more pristine, wholesome product. It’s all about perception,” he said.
Mason also noted that Americans will have to change how they view production to stay competitive in the marketplace.
“America has done such an innovative and amazing job of production but I don’t think the story moving forward is going to be production. The story is going to be quality,” he stated.
Cheap food in large quantities is the goal of a developing nation, he added. A developed nation like the U.S. strives more for quality and taste.
In the past, production agriculture was an appropriate response for producers who wanted to stay in business. The goal was to produce as much as possible with the least amount of expense.
“I understand production, but let’s think abut the next challenge for agriculture. Let’s bring back flavor, quality and differentiated product – a value-added product,” he suggested.
To illustrate his point, Mason discussed the labeling of a standard, grade A package of whole milk.
“On another carton, we have a woman hugging an Ayrshire cow. One of these packages is selling milk, and one of them is selling a story. One of them is 2.5 times the price of the other,” he said.
Mason explained that, just like any business, it is important to acknowledge the consumer and practice good customer service. He emphasized that the agriculture industry should rely less on presenting information in dry science and facts and concentrate more on appealing to Americans’ sense of self-worth, taking advantage of the opportunity to create feel-good stories to sell products.
“We used to think the future of agriculture economic prowess was that we were just going to keep being a factory and producing and producing and we were going to sell all over the globe,” Mason commented.
However, he argued that other countries are bettering their own production systems and embracing technology and innovation.
“The answer, in my opinion, is to turn that innovation inward. We should start thinking less like commodity producers and figure out how to get an extra dollar out of a dozen eggs or a pound of beef,” he remarked.
Mason predicted that the current generation of millennials has the ability to build on the success of previous generations to create a new, value-added marketplace.
“We have a fantastic opportunity to make more money doing stuff in new, innovative ways,” he said.