Producers, processors losing online food news battle to interest groups
By Rita Jane Gabbett on 6/24/2009
When consumers go online for information about the production practices that put meat on their tables, they are more likely to see the kind of one-sided content featured in the documentary "Food, Inc." than content reflecting the views of conventional producers or major food brands, according to new research from online marketing firm v-Fluence Interactive.
"Our research showed very few conventional producer groups or well-known food brands have a presence in the content that most frequently showed up when consumers search on these food production topics," Randy Krotz, senior vice president and head of v-Fluence's Food and Agriculture practice, said in a news release. "And when they do, it's more likely because organic competitors or animal rights advocates are talking about them in a critical manner.
For example, the research showed 70 percent of the content consumers are likely to see when they search for information about beef production comes from producers of organic or grass-fed beef, rather than from conventional producers. That content is typically biased toward organic or grass-fed methods, suggesting they are safer alternatives to beef from traditionally raised cattle.
Meanwhile, little content accurately representing conventional animal production or the brands under which it is sold appears to balance these critical claims, according to v-Fluence.
The research also showed 60 percent of the information consumers see when searching for poultry and egg production topics is from promoters of free-range and organic chicken. About 30 percent of the visible and influential content found online comes from advocacy groups such as United Poultry Concerns.
The research showed little content from conventional poultry producers or well-known brands in this online environment, aside from some references to Tyson and Perdue Farms crediting their efforts to reduce antibiotics in chicken. Other key findings
Content critical of large-scale producers of beef and poultry appears when consumers specifically search for animal welfare topics. The content includes references to the treatment of animals and workers at slaughtering and packing facilities and comes from advocacy groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The v-Fluence study found little visible content from the companies themselves or groups representing conventional producers effectively addressing such criticisms online.
Consumers associate some large food producers and brands with animal welfare and well-being more than others when they search. The study's analysis of consumers' most frequently used search terms showed they link meat supplier Cargill and Tyson to these topics more than other brands via search terms like "Cargill animal welfare" and "Tyson free-range chickens."
Consumers also appear more likely to search for advocacy groups, such as the Animal Welfare League, Animal Welfare Society and Animal Welfare Institute, more frequently than food production companies, producer groups and individual brands when they are interested in animal welfare and well-being topics.
"In addition to omitting important voices that consumers should hear when they search on these topics, this landscape creates an uphill battle for producers and brands that seek to promote more animal-friendly production techniques as part of their sustainability and corporate reputation initiatives," Krotz warned. Link
You hear me say it all the time, but maybe you are wondering why farmers and ranchers need to be actively engaged in promoting ag. It’s because there are som many other people out there telling your story for you. Chances are that you won’t appreciate what they are saying. The strategy of sitting back and figuring that consumers will just ignore what the other side is saying in favor of not hearing anything from us will not work. We need to be explaining who we are, where we live and why we are passionate about agriculture.