The Produce Marketing Association‘s annual trade show, Fresh Summit was held in Anaheim, CA last week. Industry leaders, marketing gurus, technology trailblazers, retail buyers, food safety experts, talented young professionals as well as decision makers and game changers spend a few days in produce heaven. There were over 20,000 attendees, 900 exhibitors (of which, we were one for the first time) at the Convention Center.
There were many things that our group took away from the event – besides sore feet and free swag. There were constant reminders throughout the show floor of how big of a job farmers have every step of the production and distribution process. It is so much more than just putting a seed in the ground and getting the final product to the store.
Farmers have to do more than farm.
Those who are removed from food production, believe that a typical farmer’s duty is to: Buy seed, plant seed, take care of the plant, harvest the crop, sell to the store, put crop in bags, put in truck, ship to store, repeat. These are the important fundamentals that make it all happen – and each step has to be done very well.
Now, and in the future, there will be even more to food production and distribution than fundamentally being able to grow food in a specific location at a specific time in a sustainable way. Farmers’ plates are still the same size they always have been, but everything else that farmers have to worry about is being piled on. Thankfully, at places like Fresh Summit, there are ideas, innovations, people and companies that can help farmers and everyone in the system deal with the full plates.
Farmers are marketers. Even if they don’t want to be.
As farmers, we often ask ourselves if telling our story is worth it. At the end of the day, we know it is – but we still wonder how we should tell it, and who do we tell it to? Do we want to talk about how we farm to the general public who is removed from agriculture? Do we want to talk to our retail customers about how we can provide value and exceptional service to them? Do we want to talk to consumers so they decide to buy our potatoes as opposed to other potatoes, or even a substitute for potatoes (gasp)?
What we see, is that we have to do it all. We have to do that, as well as produce the best potatoes we can, be as efficient as possible, come up with new innovations, focus on our sustainability efforts, analyze the distribution channels, manage our data, and concentrate on growing industry and customer relationships all at the same time.
And this is why we love what we do.
A Media Company?
So, where do we put our efforts? Gary Vaynerchuk key noted the last general session and wrapped up our experience by reinforcing the importance of why we need to commit to our messages (follow him on twitter @garyvee). He’s a top social media, marketing and all around in-your-face-this-is-what-you-should-do kind of an entrepreneur. He’s fantastic. He’s what farmers need to hear.
He said, point blank: Everyone in here is a media company first. *Minds were blown*
This was something that the people in the room haven’t really thought about – why would we worry about media and messaging when our job is to grow and move food safely from the farm to the store? Why should we be interacting with consumers when our biggest concern should be to increase yields with fewer inputs? Gary’s message was that what we all do is important, but it doesn’t matter if nobody knows about it, if they don’t understand it, if they don’t realize that we are the experts. We need to be honest, we need to be attentive, we need to listen, we need to be proactive, we need to communicate. We need to be a Farming Media Company.
Potato vs. Potato
The entire experience at these enormous industry-wide events really proves that sometimes a potato isn’t just a potato. A farmer isn’t just a farmer. A potato bag isn’t just a potato bag. We have the ability to show these differences, and we have the responsibility to prove it. The potato today will not be the same as the potato of tomorrow. The individual tuber may not change, however, it may be in how it’s grown, where or when it’s grown, how the story is told, how it’s prepared, to whom the story is told, how it’s packaged, how it’s merchandised, how it’s delivered, and how it’s talked about. It’s our job to find those differences and tell those who need to be told. We need to do that, and still be the best fundamental and technical farmers in the word…
See you next year in Atlanta! Planning for Fresh Summit 2015 starts as soon as sweet potato harvest in Louisiana and chip harvest in Michigan and Indiana is done!