Comment: Farmers need to talk more to the end consumer

By Matt Donald, pig and poultry farmer, north Yorkshire 

In September I attended the AHDB Consumer Insights conference, packed with many presentations all about how the consumer views the end product. Obviously, meat and fish protein was high on the agenda when it came to discussions, chicken yet again trumps other proteins in its performance, Kantar shows an increase of 3.3% volume of sales growth to July 19, good news to our ears!

It was also very welcoming to hear that farmers are the most trusted groups in the supply chain, the consumer believes we care about our animals and are experts in our field of nurturing them. 65% of the consumers surveyed strongly agreed farmers cared about the planet, this is welcoming, but we seem to be getting the blame for destroying nature. It would seem a minority of ‘loud’ people are the ones that we see on social media spreading the negative image- scary when on average people scroll through 100 metres of social media feeds a day… bring back whole family meal times, kids playing in the mud and adults communicating in a pub any day!

Only 47% of people believe that farmers communicate enough with consumers, compared to 62% of supermarkets, hence why Open Farm Sunday, school visits and ‘Facetime a Farmer’ become so important. If we lose touch with the end purchaser, then they will become less educated about our production methods and standards.

We all know people are eating less meat, the main reason for this being environmental concerns rather than welfare. British poultry farmers are leading the way on welfare and we have been open about this. The consumer wants to hear about the net zero approach to carbon, renewable energy we use combined with things such as tree planting across free range farms. This is now their focus when looking at making purchases, the ‘British’ flag is trusted, it’s known to be safe, we now just need to move our focus onto the environment. Plastic reduction is obviously a key part of this, how can we improve that on farm?

All of that said, it is no good if the end product is not labelled well, I was shocked to learn 1 in 10 people accidentally buy a non-meat based item because it is positioned next to the meat section. 29% of shoppers surveyed say it is confusing having meat and meat substitutes together. The retailer must clear up not only labelling, but positioning, the none meat alternatives to our produce should not be placed at the same counter.

We know we have a healthy product, it’s tasty, versatile and good value, we have the consumer trust to produce it to high welfare standards. Just because it’s ‘British’ isn’t enough so we must now focus on our environmental impact more, reducing plastic usage and finally shout about it, is the key thing I took away to focus on, to maintain growth of the volume and value of poultry sales.

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