Farm to fork, or plate to producer? Engaging consumers in agri-food campaigns

1 June 2021 marks World Milk Day – an annual global awareness day aimed at showcasing the nutritional benefits of milk and other dairy products. It’s a campaign which has gone from strength to strength since it launched in 2001.

World Milk Day 2020 achieved 842 million global impressions across social media, including #EnjoyDairy plus 40 translations and local hashtags, an increase from 664 million in 2019.

The positive sentiment increased to 64% vs. 60% in 2019, and negative posts decreased to just 2% vs. 4% the previous year. The global dairy sector did a terrific job at keeping the conversation upbeat, and there were more than 62,000 posts featuring #WorldMilkDay from May 1 – June 21 last year. I have no doubt 2021 will follow suit. So, as a marketer, you would say ‘great results’. However, I do have one question – why are these agri-food awareness days transfixed on the product on the plate / in the glass, rather than on the producer – i.e. the cow?

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Environmentally Friendly beef

Is ‘farm to fork’ effective?

I spent my industry placement year at Harper Adams University working on a large-scale dairy unit, and now oversee a portfolio of dairy clients at Pinstone, so you could say I have a vested interested. I’ve found myself recently asking, why isn’t there more focus on the cow, the farmer, their team and ultimately how the milk is produced? Is it not what the consumer wants to see?

In the farming world, there is an emphasis on raising the profile of the industry through ‘farm to fork’, but these public-facing awareness days appear to be doing the reverse – putting the product and the plate in the spotlight. How it gets there, is secondary.

The ‘face’ of world milk day is the glass of milk, rather than promoting the cow that it comes from. In March, GBBW promoted great tasting beef in another highly successful awareness campaign. But again, why isn’t it called ‘Great British Cow Week’? Albeit a lot less snappy, is calling it ‘Great British Beef Week’ in bid to get the public engaged with British beef production, actually distancing the consumer from the ‘producer’ in all the senses – farmer and cow?

It feels like the consensus is, if the face of a food campaign was the ‘producer’, then consumers would become disengaged, and a campaign may experience negative backlash. Meaning that the public want to enjoy meat and milk, with their great nutritional values, but don’t really want to give too much thought on the process leading up to dinner time?

However, there does appear to be a change among the public – that understanding and knowing how and where your food comes from is increasing in importance alongside price.

Changes in consumer shopping habits

In a ComRes survey carried out by the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists, results highlighted that the work British farmers do to provide high quality food, produced to the highest of standards is highly valued by consumers.

In recent weeks, trade deal negotiations with Australia have hit mainstream media. The public are starting to see that British farming standards are some of the highest in the world, and that if the UK imports lower standard produce, this would impact the quality of our supermarket shelves. This sentiment was echoed in the BGAJ survey, with 84% agreeing that the Government should ensure all imported food meets the same environmental and animal welfare standards as food produced in the UK.

So, I guess the question is, going forward can we, the British farming sector, be braver with our consumer-facing marketing? Let’s put a true face to these campaigns - show off and be proud about how that milk gets in the glass, and the hard work which goes into your Friday night steak, and celebrate the farmers, advisers, and the animals which make this happen.

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