The summit opened with an on-stage consumer focus group that shared their food purchasing decisions at restaurants. Led by Don Phipps from Applied Marketing Research, the eight panelists discussed how factors such as price, location, convenience and social influence all affected their restaurant choices. While issues such as animal welfare weren’t mentioned as influencing factors for restaurant choices, the panelists expressed some concerns on animal raising practices when prompted by questions from the audience. Some panelists indicated that their decision to eat at local restaurants that touted locally grown meats and produce came from the desire to know where their food came from.
When asked where they got their information about how food is raised and issues pertaining to agriculture, the panelists indicated that social media outlets such as Facebook and YouTube were oftentimes where information was found.
Following the session, attendees agreed that there are needs and opportunities for consumer education when it comes to animal raising practices.
Following the focus group, the conversation turned to dispelling myths about food. Leah McGrath, corporate dietitian with Ingles Markets, and Amber Pankonin, dietitian and blogger with StirList.com, led the discussion.
According to McGrath, the conversation about food changed five to six years ago. “Consumers started expressing concerns and fears about food.” Consumers started being more concerned about issues such as contamination in food by bacteria, residues and pesticides on food, antibiotics and hormones in foods and GMOs.
Unfortunately, consumers don’t know enough about these topics and some marketers capitalize on these fears.
“There is an overwhelming amount of marketing to fear-based concerns,” McGrath said. “We need to talk people down off this fear ledge.”
Pankonin suggested that nutritionists, as well as anyone involved in the agriculture industry, should try to find opportunities to engage and educate consumers – whether that’s at the grocery store or in social situations with friends and family. She said to focus on the “movable middle” – those interested in learning more and not already having their minds made up. To engage consumers she suggests listening for an opportunity, finding a shared value, asking permission to share information and then sharing your story and the science.
McGrath warned the stakeholders that the activists are out there spreading messages, “Where are you?” she asked.
Both dieticians agreed that there’s still a lot of education that needs to happen regarding food. “Figure out a way to engage that fits your lifestyle,” Pankonin said. “It’s important to spread positive messages about the food system.”
In an additional presentation, investigative journalist and author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” Nina Teicholz delved into more nutrition myths, focusing primarily on the health benefits of meat, butter and cheese. She shared how an article she was assigned years ago about saturated fats led her to investigate contradictory nutritional research.
“It’s a confusing diet world out there,” said Teicholz, who was a vegetarian for two decades before researching the health benefits of meat, butter and cheese. There are “mass hallucinations” that beef and dairy products are bad, “but these foods are good and wholesome and there is no shame in raising them.”
She advised attendees to work with legislators, in particular newly appointed Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, to revise the current dietary guidelines.