’Tis that time of year when it’s better to give than to receive.
In that spirit, here is a gift suggestion that wise people in the industry ought to consider giving to some obvious recipients: it’s called generosity. Or perhaps tolerance. Or maybe a better term would be acceptance.
In the end what serves industry best is to share what might be called the gift of appreciation for those people and trends that often seem antagonistic—unless you can view them in the holiday spirit.
The best example is the emergence of “alternative agriculture,” the production and marketing of free-range, grassfed, organically grown, heritage-bred meat and poultry products. Typically, most industry participants either sneer at the marketing and/or health claims made by alternative growers and processors or else condemn them because the product lines are pricier than conventional products—by a lot.
Of course, these products cost more, as do hand-crafted, labor-intensive products in every consumer category. Do homemade preserves (jams, jellies) cost more than the mass-marketed, brand-name varieties stocked on the supermarket shelves? Do boutique wines and craft beers cost more than the market leaders in those categories? Or a box of hand-dipped, gourmet chocolates, versus a bag of Hershey’s Kisses?
Quality considerations aside, limited production, labor-intensive products cost more, and the customers who prefer them are willing to pay more. Is that a bad thing for the name-brand manufacturers against whom the specialty marketers compete? Of course not.
The bottom line is that gourmet-type products, or those foods making ethical or environmental claims—fair-trade, shade-grown coffee comes to mind—help expand the category by bringing in new customers and new revenue.
A cost-benefit calculus
More importantly, the success of any specialty segment provides the market leaders with an opportunity to cash in on the same demographic that the alternative marketers are targeting. A great example of that is the sub-brands launched by several major processing companies that feature antibiotic-free, cage-free, “naturally” grown animal foods—typically premium-priced—that can be sold to people willing and able to pay more for the benefits they deem important.
Equally important, a price differential between alternative and conventional foods isn’t a bad thing, it’s a genuine opportunity. Nothing allows consumers to distinguish—and decide—the cost-benefit equation more clearly than the price tag.