Learning to Speak the Language of Consumers

Prairie Gleanings

Once again my wife was right. I don't think consumers understand food price increases in grocery store terms.

Published on: October 20, 2010

Last night, I had an epiphany. When debating the economics of organic, sustainable, green, or (insert buzzword here) food production, we’re speaking the wrong language.

When consumers hit me up with their activist food production spiel, I always respond with, “Yeah, but how much are you willing to pay for ground beef?” In discussing it with my wife, I realized a lot of folks don’t know what a reasonable price for ground beef is.

Sure, the moms of the world know. But, that means one person out of a household of four actually knows what a good deal on beef is. No wonder I get blank stares when I ask if folks are willing to shell out $7 a pound for their precious (insert buzzword here) beef. They have no idea how much it should cost.

The next time I engage in this conversation, I’m going to put the price increase in terms of fast food. How much extra would you be willing to pay for the two cheeseburger meal at McDonald’s?

Most folks probably have a price point of around $5 in mind for a fast food value meal. If you tell them putting their food production policies in place would raise their favorite value meal price to around $10, perhaps that would put it in terms they understand.

Years ago, I took an economics class in college. A lesson that sticks with me is the relationship between price increase and the frequency with which a person purchases said item. For example, consumers would accept a 500% price increase for salt. After all, most folks probably buy two large containers per year. However, if you applied the same 500% increase to say frozen pizzas, I bet a lot of folks would stop eating frozen pizza.

Point is, let’s engage consumers with stuff they purchase frequently. Hopefully this tactic will give them pause in sticking by their (insert buzzword here) ideals.

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  1. rcollins says:

    I sometimes wonder if debating the economics of food is even the right debate. As an ag literacy coordinator, I try to stay somewhat current on food production-related controversies. During California's Prop 2 debate, I was looking for facts being presented to consumers to convince them to vote against the ballot initiative. Much of what I found addressed the potential for foods such as eggs to become much more expensive because production costs would increase. Even as someone working "inside" agriculture, I found this argument vaguely offensive. It suggests that I care more about my pocketbook than the welfare of animals. I don't think the activists food production ideas are driven by economics. They're driven by the fact that they want to feel good about how their food is produced. Society has this warm, fuzzy concept of small, old-fashioned family farms. When we as an industry can convey that the same values of family, good livestock care, and care of our air and water really does translate to large, modern, conventional farm operations, maybe we'll be getting somewhere.

  2. J. Flint says:

    Interesting proposition. If I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying the debate lies in whether farming is a business or a heritage. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately for the sake of this debate) it's both.