VanVranken encourages awareness
ATLANTIC CITY — Atlantic County Rutgers Agricultural Extension Service Agent Rick VanVranken spoke at length about marketing social responsibility here on Feb. 5 at the annual Vegetable Growers’ Association of New Jersey annual convention and trade show.
VanVranken said just as large corporations are learning there are dollars involved in being eco-friendly, sustainable and socially responsible, so are individual consumers.
Many of those consumers want fresh, locally grown produce and they frequent farm stands around the Garden State.
“Social responsibility is getting a lot of attention lately,” he said at the outset. “It’s part of the trifecta of what is sustainability.”
Younger consumers want to support sustainable, local farms, he said, yet the majority of produce is still sold in large supermarkets and grocery stores, he said.
“We’ve had an on-going program at Rutgers called ‘Annie’s Project,’ run by Dr. Robin Brumfield out of New Brunswick.
This year, our first speaker was Charlotte Smith from Oregon, who has her own farm and a business called 3 Cow Marketing,” he said.
“One of her key points in her remarks was ‘you’ve got to tell your [farm’s] story.’ If you look at every website there is, there’s always a tab for ‘Our Story,’ ” he said.
“Your story has to say what you’re doing for your customers; to make that connection. Identify them and when you make that connection, they come in and talk to you and want to buy your products,” he said.
VanVranken mentioned the Hartman Group, a commercial survey company, recently identified sustainability as an issue of great concern to many consumers.
“What do people in [your] area want? They’re looking for transparency and trust,” he said, “you build that based on what you tell them about how you treat the environment, your employees and how you grow your produce. How do you sell sustainability?”
The original definition from the early 1980s referred to low-input agriculture that had less of an environmental impact.
“Several years ago, our retired colleague Jack Rabin conducted a sustainable ag course, and told the class: ‘Get the economics right or you can’t take on the environmental or social issues. If you’re not a profitable business, you’re gonna go out of business, and that doesn’t do anybody any good, especially you.’ ”
He added some days there’s not too much information in his e-mail box, “but every day, there’s a story about somebody promoting what they’ve been doing to be socially responsible.”
He said large companies like Chiquita and Del Monte are doing it, so why not smaller family-run farms in the Garden State?
“The number one rule in marketing is give your customers what they want, so you grow the right crops and harvest at the right stage and package them appropriately,” he said. “What does the customer want these days? They want to know what you’re doing for them.”
He noted there are high-priced consultants out there who will help you identify what’s unique about your farm operations, but a low-impact method is to consult with your county’s agricultural Extension agent.
“How do you analyze your business to tell folks about what you’re doing for the environment and with regard to their concerns about social responsibility?” he asked the group. “We’ve developed a page at our sustainable ag research and education website, it tells you about how to do an analysis of your farm, a swat analysis that lists all the things that are good and bad, threats about your business and also those things you can promote.”
He pointed out there are now more than 200 labels that food producers can now stick on their products, “everything from the treatment of animals and how vegetables and fruit are grown as well as how the products are packaged and marketed.”
Larger companies are now displaying certified IPM labels on their products, and there is no reason smaller farmers cannot do the same on their value-added products, he said.
“If you’re open and honest about it, the consumer will accept that you’re doing the best you can do,” he said, “the non-GMO Project is a big label and another one is NSF, the National Standards Foundation, they certify the value of your consumer products and create standards for all kinds of things.”
In closing, VanVranken urged farmers not to overlook the popular and highly successful Jersey Fresh labels and the associated marketing campaign, one of the strongest in the nation.
“Think about ways you can hit all three of the sustainability stool,” he said, noting economic, environmental and social responsibility.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925