Last week’s column described consumer behavior and the assumptions behind predicting that behavior. The key points are consumers behavior rationally (in a predictable way), they prefer more to less, their preferences are complete, and they don’t change preferences without a reason. Relative prices between goods are an important factor in determining choices within the constraints of a consumer’s budget. Finally, consumer preferences do change over time, economists accept this change as a fact, and deal with those changes. Now the question to answer is how the agriculture and food industries responded to changes preferences and budgets have.
• Consumers have less time to prepare meals from scratch and many haven’t really learned how to cook. But they don’t necessarily want heat and eat since they are concerned about preservatives and other additives. They want something ready to cook and eat in a short time. Producers of meat and poultry have developed pre-seasoned and even marinated cults of meat ready to cook. Some cuts of meat are precooked and may be heated in the microwave or conventional oven.
• Consumers are concerned regarding the safety of their food, especially meat and dairy products. They want minimal preservatives and maximum shelf life. That is why many cuts of meat now come vacuum packed and brief irradiation over the surface of meat was developed to destroy bacteria while leaving food untouched.
• Consumers became concerned over the amount of fat in their diets, especially animal fats. Through breeding and livestock diets producers can provide leaner healthier meats and poultry. Many prefer white meat when eating poultry so chickens and turkeys have been developed with greater quantities of breast meat.
• While still relatively small overall, there are growing preferences for “organic” foods, free range chickens, grass finished beef, and other “natural” food stuffs. And the locally grown food movement is related to this preference. These people are willing to pay more to satisfy this preference. Some producers have switched to growing these products and follow the regulations to be certified in the appropriate area. The next time you walk into a Walmart or Dillon’s pay attention to the ever increasing shelf space devoted to these foods, even in Great Bend.
• As stated previously, consumers want a safe, healthy food supply free of antibiotics and hormones. They have concerns regarding genetic engineering and chemicals used in food production. They want animals humanely treated. The number one method the agricultural industry can and is using to address this issue is education. Educating consumers regarding the truth as to what they are eating and what producers are really doing in food production and why. Included in this is educating consumers on how to properly store and prepare the foods they are buying.
The list is much longer but hopefully it is apparent the agriculture industry pays attention to what consumers want and either try to provide it to them or educate them as to the reality of what they are purchasing.