U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance Shares Consumer Research, a Good Road Map Forward

May 25, 2016
Telling the sustainability story
CHICAGO, IL – USA Rice participated in the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance’s (USFRA) second annual Research Workshop and first-ever Sustainability Summit here last week, where exhaustive and interesting consumer research across the agriculture and food chain was shared.

USFRA surveyed 1,000 millennials (both parents and non-parents), general consumers, and a group of influential consumers they term “Consumer Food Connectors,” or CFCs.  CFCs are 21-65 years old, well-educated, interested in government policy and current events, and engaged in advocacy activities related to food and the food industry on a regular basis.  As such, USFRA finds this subgroup, about 10 percent of the population, to be much more engaged and influential on key ag and food issues.

“The CFCs are an important audience for us all.  They are more opinionated, and even though they aren’t always correct, they are a good indicator for us of where the general public will be in the future,” said Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president of marketing, communications, and domestic promotion, who attended the event.  “The USFRA research shows 54 percent of consumers say they care about sustainability, but 72 percent of CFCs do so I’d expect this issue to continue to grow in importance and visibility.”

Klein went on to say that the challenge as demonstrated by the USFRA research, and USA Rice’s own consumer research, is that defining the concept of “sustainability” is no easy task.

“The USFRA research showed about half of consumers couldn’t say what sustainability means to them – even though they also say it’s important,” he said.  “I’d say U.S. rice farmers are pretty sustainable today – producing more rice on less land, with less water and energy, all while providing critical wildlife habitat.  But the USFRA research, asking about all farming and ranching (not singling out rice), shows only about half of consumers believe today’s practices are sustainable.”

Klein says the agriculture industry clearly has a long way to go but that the USFRA research is invaluable in showing the path forward.

“One thing I found particularly enlightening was the notion that consumers like looking forward, but have a hard time looking back.  When we say things like, ‘we’re borrowing this land from future generations,’ or that ‘we intend to leave this land better for our children than it was when we received it,’ consumers connect and like it.  But when we say things like, ‘this farm has been in my family for four generations – how could it not be sustainable?’ they don’t always get it.”

USFRA researchers suggested this is because few consumers are a part of a family business that old, but whatever the reason, the research does help find the sweet spot of communicating positive ag messages with consumers.

Klein concluded, “As USA Rice works to broaden our understanding of consumer perceptions and what drives consumer behavior, these findings coupled with our own, are quite useful.”