Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Real Reasons Why Sainsbury's Dumped the Red Tractor

The Farmers Weekly poll last week asked the question “What do you think of Sainsbury’s ditching the Red Tractor”. 69%of respondents answered that they were disgusted, against 14% saying they are right to do so and 17% not caring one way or the other.

We cannot read too much into this piece of research. The question is designed to be provocative, only 874 people responded, and they probably did not think overly hard about their choice of answer.
This piece of research apart, the outraged response from many in the farming community does make you wonder about how much in touch they are with consumer trends and the way the big retailers think.

Sainsbury’s stated rationale for abandoning the Red Tractor symbol is that it clutters up the label, the EU is about to pronounce on food labelling, and too many labels lead to consumer confusion.

But, if Sainsbury’s valued the symbol, or thought that their customers valued it, a way would have been found to keep it. Why for example, is the RSPCA Freedom Foods label staying on, and, reportedly, the Irish assurance logo.

Sainsbury’s thinking may have gone something like this.

The company sets itself up as a champion of high welfare, hence its support for Freedom Food chicken and pork. As a business it feels that consumers care deeply about the issue, and that commitment to high welfare gives them an edge versus competitors, a point that chief executive Justin King pushes home at every opportunity.

They have committed by 2020 to selling all meat, poultry, eggs game and poultry products supplied by farmers who adhere to independent higher welfare standards.

The reality is that Red Tractor does not deliver the image that Sainsbury wants to portray because the Red Tractor only means that farmers have adhered to minimum legal standards. Add to this the adverse publicity experienced by Red Tractor of late including the Advertising Standards Authority judging a recent pork advertisement to be misleading, the shocking case of cruelty at a Red Tractor audited farm in Norfolk, and extensive media coverage of what the different food labels stand for with Red Tractor coming out bottom, and the value of the logo to Sainsbury suddenly looks suspect.

What about other retailers? Tesco has committed to continue with the logo. But this could change. Whilst there is still huge confusion among the majority about the facts behind the different labels, consumers are becoming more sophisticated and knowledgeable by the day, prompted by campaigning groups and enabled by technology which allows instant access to the internet for research and verification.

And  as consumers become ever more aware of food labels and what they stand for, the other supermarkets will review their animal welfare policies too. It is not hard to see that the Red Tractor stamp in its current form could become meaningless to them also.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

National Trust MyFarm Experiment Falters

MyFarm, the National Trust’s experiment to involve the general public in farming decisions is closing down due to lack of demand.

Launched in May 2011 the idea was that for a joining fee of £30 people could vote on various farming decisions which needed to be made on the Trust’s 1200 acre organic farm in Cambridgeshire, and the farm manager, Richard Norris was obliged to enact whatever plan got the most votes. People voted on issues such as which crops to plant, and what breed of beef cow to rear on farm.

Despite the Trust’s 3.7 million members, and a massive publicity campaign at launch, the numbers signing up fell well short of the 10,000 required.  A reported 29,000 people went on to the internet on the first day to see what the project was all about, but a recent article in the Telegraph says that the number of people enrolling stalled at under 3000, with the Trust refusing to confirm exact figures. And this despite a decision in May 2012 to abolish the joining fee.

So what issues does this raise.

Well, it demonstrates that if the general public think something this a bad idea then no amount of money, publicity or clout will turn it into a good one.

We do not know what turned the public off and it is a puzzle given that most other pieces of information suggest that farming holds a fascination for many.

Could it be that those who went on to the website realised that the premise was unrealistic in that  a financially vital decision was being made by committee in just a few days and on the basis of few facts and less experience. Perhaps the unreality was exacerbated by a feeling that the Trust is wealthy enough for a bad decision not to lead to financial ruin. Perhaps some realised that the results of their decision would not be available for months if not years, which can be unsatisfying in today’s climate of instant gratification.

In truth the MyFarm experiment made farming a game and trivialised its importance. It was interesting that the Telegraph article appeared in the week that Farming Today on radio 4 was covering the issue of why youngsters seem not to understand that farming is a highly skilled and technically demanding career and Farmers Weekly published its survey showing that the average farm manager’s salary is a respectable and competitive £50,000, a number that does not include non cash benefits such as a car or rent and council tax payment. By contrast MyFarm gave the impression that farming could be done with little expertise and a seat of the pants approach.

The NT should be applauded for trying something new, and for its efforts to reconnect the general public to farming.

But this experiment did neither they nor the farming profession any favours.