Food culture brings new ways to tell produce stories

06/13/2014 11:13:00 AM
Tim York

Tim York, Markon CooperativeTim York, Markon CooperativeOn several occasions, including in one of his “state of the industry” talks, I recall the Produce Marketing Association’s CEO Bryan Silbermann exhorting the industry to “tell our story.”

It seems so simple, and, frankly, we’ve heard it all too often.

Yet, as an industry, we are still not doing a very good job of showing and telling consumers about the healthy products we grow, ship and sell, nor about the people behind them.

When I was PMA’s chairman-elect in 2001, I visited Bryan’s homeland, South Africa, as part of the International Council.

Supermarkets there featured pictures of growers, their names and farm locations and histories, demonstrating the relevancy of the stories behind the food.

This was 2001, but this practice has only recently been adopted by some retailers in North America.

In foodservice, the process of bringing farms and farmers to the table is moving equally slowly. But it’s picking up steam and the time is ripe for the produce industry to bring its stories to the masses.

Consumers — and in turn retailers and foodservice operators — have never been more interested in where their food comes from, specifically, how it is grown and by whom.

Tech savvy millennials define themselves as “foodies” and are increasingly concerned about the food they eat, according to the 2014 Food Foresight trends report.

This heightened interest in food has led to a sweeping food culture. From the increasing popularity of food and cooking shows to the prevalence and power of food stories in social media, it’s clear there is an audience hungry for our stories.

For better or worse, storytellers living beyond the farm are often the ones telling the tales in a multitude of ways more or less connected to reality.

A quick Google search for “Gill’s Onions video” yields more than 350,000 results.

In addition to company-created videos, results include: a video from the TV show “How it’s Made;” a segment from Huell Howser’s “California Green” about energy produced with onion waste; and a “Dirty Jobs” segment featuring Mike Rowe slicing and dicing onions.

These videos offer a tear-free way to understand growing, harvest, preparation and packing of onions, along with elements of the people behind the process and sustainability.

Social connections

Some of our industry leaders are making strides by tapping into social media, including influential bloggers.


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