Lessons Learned from my Ford Pinto about Food Trends

The last Ford I owned outright – and lived to tell the tale — was a 1972 Pinto. To me, at the time, it was a beauty, silver-grey with a thick black stripe along the rocker panels. I thought it was cool, but, in truth, I was an idiot to drive it. I was lucky it didn’t blow up when I was rear-ended at a stop sign by a distracted driver. Others weren’t so fortunate.

Ford and other American car companies have come so, so far. For example, earlier this week at the Detroit Auto Show, Ford introduced its new F-150 pick-up with some aluminum parts that cut its weight by about 700 lb., meaning the company can use a smaller, less thirsty engine and – unlike the Pinto — still get top performance.

Companies are paying more attention to what consumers want, and responding accordingly. Even the Pinto, despite its many faults and safety concerns, was created in reaction to skyrocketing gas prices. But back then, car makers didn’t always connect quality, value and economy. Now, they pay more attention to consumer trends, and increasingly, to emerging micro trends that might turn into full-blown movements.

You have to pay attention, if you’re a marketer. That’s true for the food business, too whether you’re a buyer – such as a consumer – or a farmer, processor or retailer.

Romanticizing how things used to be, we find comfort and connection in products, brands and experiences that evoke nostalgia

Ford now goes so far as to produce an outlook publication. The newly released edition, called Looking Further with Ford: 2014 Trends, underlines how consumers are drawn to the old days.

“Romanticizing how things used to be, we find comfort and connection in products, brands and experiences that evoke nostalgia,” it says. “As a result, heritage brands are taking off.”

When it comes to vehicles, no stronger a statement could be made about the draw of heritage brands than at last year’s Superbowl, when the Dodge Ram, one of the Ford F-150’s strongest competitors, drew legions of new fans with its nostalgic tribute to American farmers.

But even newer brands can tap into the power of nostalgia, says the report, by paying particular attention to what it calls the “distinctive craftsmanship” that marked pre-globalization.

To me, that’s kind of an odd statement for a distinctively global company, and for one that unapologetically made the Pinto and hid its flaws.

But overall, the report – which goes on to note the trending backlash against middlemen and others, too, who bring no apparent value to products — might as well have been talking about the reasons why local food has become such a driving force.

Those who support it are likewise fed up with the commercialism that led to fast food, cheap imports and the erosion of local economies.

And when it comes to branding local food, there’s no better way to do it than to feature the faces, names and stories of those who grow it, raise it, prepare it and deliver it.

Like Ford says, you don’t have to be a heritage brand to succeed. You’re in the old-days zone if you embrace similar values and position yourself accordingly in the eyes of the public. Do something for your community; don’t just take the money and run. Show your commitment.

What a great opportunity for new entrants to farming and the food business, those who are genuinely interested in meeting consumer needs and demands with quality products – and, of course, interested in being different.

Trends can and do change. While this one is upon us, all parts of the food sector, including farmers and consumers, have a golden opportunity to enjoy it and prosper

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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