Food-chain specialist: Communicate the emotional side of pork production, not the technical

Mon, 05 Feb 2018

The food supply chain has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. “It’s so much more complex and consumer driven,” said Justin Ransom, supply chain strategist. “Today’s consumer can ask for specific things, whether it involves cars or clothes, and they can get it. They think it should be the same for the food they put in their bodies.”

Ransom, who has worked within the McDonald’s supply chain, calls the current evolution, “the age of the customer.” “Companies that are doing a good job of listening to customers and meeting their demands are growing their business,” he told Pig Health Today.

For pork producers and swine veterinarians, he advises engaging with consumers and opening the dialogue.

“Tell them what you’re doing and how you continue to improve year after year,” Ransom said. “But keep it simple. As animal scientists, we tend to focus on the technical side, the data, research, and we fail to communicate on the emotional side — that’s where the disconnect lies.”

There are a lot of hot-button issues today that stretch from pig health to animal housing to painful procedures. He warns the pork sector that meeting consumer and supply-chain demands is not a matter of addressing one problem and checking it off as “solved.”

It’s more complex than that as few people understand farming or food production. He poses the question: How do we decide what the future of pork production will look like? Not only do producers and swine veterinarians need to think through that, they also need to convey what’s right for the pig.

For example, Ransom points to immunocastration as a positive development toward animal welfare. “We stress these young pigs at a critical period in their life; how can we take some of the stressors away and raise a healthier pig?” he asked. “The dilemma then is how we talk with consumers about this. How do we tell a story about pig production and help people feel good about it?”

Of course, the concern is what happens if consumers find out about a practice and they don’t like it. That’s why transparency is so critical in connecting with consumers. Ransom points out that when consumers see farmers who work with pigs every day, it breaks down political and emotional walls.

“When you’re transparent, people start to trust you and you can engage and have meaningful conversations,” he concluded.