Garland Jaeger, guest columnist Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, thanks to the generosity of the Pack Family Career Pathways Program.
The experience was invaluable to say the least, and undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness how truly vast the produce industry is.
I was particularly taken aback with the international representation at the conference, a reminder that globalization is indeed occurring and the necessity of communicating with our consumers is as pressing as ever.
With the industry’s international scope in mind, social media was more than just a buzz phrase heard throughout the workshops and conversations that took place at the conference.
It was quite the contrary.
The importance and prevalence of social media appeared to be somewhat of a focus for the Fresh Summit.
While I agree it is certainly important for organizations to participate in this new marketing frenzy (I have a Facebook and a Twitter account just like the rest of them), I don’t know if giving these digital tools ample credit is as justifiable as we’d like it to be.
I am the first to admit I am no industry veteran, and I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.
But the fact is, I seriously doubt a substantial amount of consumers are using social media in order to acquire information about the produce industry.
Naturally, this new digital phenomenon is largely associated with younger generations.
I am in grad school and as a 25-year-old who is often surrounded by college students in addition to spending a good amount of time with peers who are my own age, I don’t know anyone who is spending much of their social media time doing anything other than checking in on their social life, with occasional deviations to other sites that are of interest.
“Other sites” could undoubtedly include the Facebook and Twitter pages of many produce companies, industry organizations and the like.
However, I fear we are jumping onto a new bandwagon of thinking simply because we’d like an answer to our problem.
Although it seems nearly everyone has a Facebook page and tunes into Twitter updates, that doesn’t mean changing consumer behavior is any easier now.
It is essentially just another method for getting our message in front of them.
We repeatedly discuss today’s consumer, the shopper who is on the go who doesn’t have enough time to cook, and is most likely to speed through the grocery aisles grabbing products that exude convenience.
Microwaveable veggies anyone?
Isn’t it logical to assume the same is true for social media?
Presumably, the average person today doesn’t have time to surf the Web to find the best deal on raspberries this week or to read which local farmer’s produce will be at the market.
As for the not-so-average Americans who are doing their grocery shopping research? Hey, the more the merrier!
But at this point it doesn’t seem prudent to deem social media as the answer to the underlying problem our industry continues to face: People simply aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables.
It is my sincere hope the innovative nature of today’s produce industry will eventually be the catalyst to drive this trend in reverse.
I think many would agree we are well on our way.
Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and one of the guest speakers featured during the Fresh Summit, gave an inspirational account of the USDA’s successful MyPlate campaign geared toward educating Americans on healthy food portions including, “Making half your plate fruits and vegetables.”
Initiatives such as these, combined with social media outlets, just might be the ticket to progress, and I wholeheartedly agree we need to pursue all social media avenues available.
Nevertheless, I humbly submit that in the meantime we continue to collaborate industrywide in an effort to think outside the box, striving for fresh and novel techniques to effectively communicate with our consumers.
Garland Jaeger is a graduate student in agribusiness at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, and attended Fresh Summit 2011 in Atlanta as part of the Pack Family Career Pathways Program. Before graduate school, she worked in sales for Francis Produce Co., Greenville, S.C.
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