Angela Kirkwood works on her family pig farm producing pork for supermarkets and their own butchering business based in East Yorkshire. The family started the East Riding Country Pork business, selling pork direct to the public in 2000. As a farm to fork business, Angela knows the power of engagement.
Brits spend a mere 9% of their income on food, compared to nearly 50% in the world war years, and there’s a lot of us fighting for a slither of that 9%. As we enter a world of uncertain trade deals and trade offs, it really is more important than ever to engage, educate and encourage the British consumer to realise the value of what we have and to buy quality British food to secure the future of our industry.
The industry has changed and producing food is not enough. We need to be constantly marketing it. We need, as an industry, to make ourselves an integral part of people’s lives.
Farmers need to be media-savvy
Farmers need to be more media savvy. The media moves so quickly these days, particularly online, through social media and the news, we can help promote and maintain a positive brand for British farming, which is ever more important with imminent changes in farming policy. We need to make our consumers aware of the huge industry that is food and farming, the value of producing our own food and the benefits it brings to the economy, to our health and to our reputation. Social media is a great way to tell our story and instil that warm, fuzzy feeling among our consumers, but also in the traditional print press. Media training should probably be compulsory, as it’s as important to respond to bad times well as it is to ride on the wave of positive stories.
Farmers' markets need to be an event
Farmers’ Markets and farm shops need to be an ‘event’, somewhere they can happily spend a morning or a day, with something for all the family, from children and dogs to granny in her wheelchair. Farmers Markets have been going for 20 years now, and I believe they need to keep evolving to keep drawing people to them. Make the morning about food and the afternoon about crafts, with somewhere for lunch or a coffee in between. Put on activities, use it as an excuse to educate and engage the public with fun aspects of farming and food production. People are looking for activities at weekends, and we can offer them that.
Discounters aren't a threat
I initially saw the rise of the discounters as a threat, but then I realised that is not our competition. In fact, perhaps it has boosted the premium end of the market. I know we have seen a change in customer habits at our farm shop and at farmers’ markets in the last few years. Customers will do their discounter shop one or two times a week, then at the weekend top it up with something ‘special’. We need to encourage more people to embrace premium food. In the same way that you feel a thrill buying a Jo Malone candle, it should be the same when you go home with a beautifully packaged rolled joint of homegrown pork. We need to grow that sense of the gift of food into the general psyche, so people want to pay more for amazing food.
Selling direct brings best returns
While 95% of our business is selling pork to supermarkets, it is the remaining 5% that we sell direct to the consumer that has held the best average return over the last 17 years. We have more control over this part of the business, the prices and the demand, and it here where we can maximise on the rewards.
Blow our British trumpets
We should as a nation not only be grateful for food produced in Britain but also blowing our trumpets about it. British food and farming is one, it’s a huge industry that produces well. Non-farmers can get up and go to work every day, as we, the farmers, are producing food for them.
There are such huge opportunities in farming, and that’s why I am in it.
The 2017 Oxford Farming Conference Emerging Leaders Programme was sponsored by Massey Ferguson