Who is leading food trends? Follow the money


The customer is always right, but who is the customer? If you’re a grocery store or a coffee shop trying to stay on-trend, is it consumer opinion that matters most, or those of your shareholders, as the pressure for profits rises?

“The demands of the average consumer are pretty intuitive — they want affordable, tasty food,” says Jayson Lusk, with Purdue University. While it’s true that consumer preferences change as their wealth status changes, where much of the pressure on food practices comes from, he says, is not actually directly from retailers or processors, but from their investors.

When it comes to “social desirability” issues, Lusk says that on any given ingredient or topic (dairy for coffee, for instance), the push back or added criticism may not be coming from the majority; but if it’s a large enough number that investors and venture capital funds notice it, you can bet there’s pressure put on companies to respond to that signal.

The same holds true for what we see in the news about food and agriculture, Lusk says — a vocal or affluent minority creates a lot of noise and attention around a particular food topic or trend, making it seem like EVERYONE is very concerned about an issue.

Where this becomes an issue for farmers may seem evident — through increased scrutiny, more bureaucracy, and possibly a loss of access to tools — but it can actually be a cost to consumers, too. If you’re given the choice of, say, a no dairy option at Starbucks, you can just head on over to Tim Horton’s and get your cream there. But if an option is completely eliminated, driving up the cost of alternatives (or simply only having more expensive replacement products), consumers who don’t share this same preference end up paying more.

Which brings us to the push for plant protein, as well. There are opportunities, for sure, within the protein push, but there’s controversy and agenda here too. For at least one plant-based meat replacement company, the expressed goal is to put the livestock industry out of business. What does that mean for agriculture as a whole, and is the livestock industry making too much or not enough of a deal of this?

Watch/listen below to FarmTech 2020 keynote speaker Jayson Lusk in conversation with Shaun Haney: 

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