A leading professor has told farmers they must always remember shoppers ‘do not care about you’.
Andrew Fearne, professor of value chain management at the University of East Anglia, made the remarks at the East of England farming conference in Peterborough yesterday.
In a blistering talk, Prof Fearne said: “There is a significant and growing group of consumers, particularly in this part of the world, who are only interested in cheap food. That is a reality.
“The masses, the majority of people in this country who buy their food in supermarkets, do not care about you.
“They will only care when they cannot buy stuff or when there is a crisis, but most of the time, they do not care about where stuff comes from or how it was produced.”
Prof Fearne also took aim at those who believe Red Tractor is connecting with shoppers.
“They do not understand the Red Tractor,” he said.
“They are not going to the website or believing half of what you claim is happening. You do not have the budget of Procter and Gamble to explain it to them, so you tell yourself they already understand. I am telling you, they do not.”
For farmers to get a fairer share of the food pound, Prof Fearne suggested they would need to look more closely what shoppers do, as opposed to what they say.
“You can ask however many people you like what matters to them – welfare this, provenance that, the cuddly, friendly farmer looking after the environment, but when they are busy pushing their trolleys round with screaming kids and they are thinking about getting back home for Strictly, they are not worried about half the things we think they should,” he said.
He called on producers to build businesses based on an understanding of what consumers value, not what they can currently provide.
“If you cannot do it, you need to be partnering with and investing in people who can, or sell the land and invest somewhere else,” he said.
Other key tips he offered were for farmers to collaborate more extensively, both with colleagues and the rest of the supply chain, and investing in opportunities which allow value to be added to produce.