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Eighteen percent of primary school children that took part in a survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation believe that fish fingers come from chicken. Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed thought that cheese came from plants, while one in ten thought that tomatoes grew underground.
The findings have made some great media headlines!
The survey included the thoughts of 27,500 children across the UK and also found that 21 percent primary school children and 18 percent of secondary school children had never visited a farm. The British Nutrition Foundation believes that this may go some way to explain why so many children believe that pasta comes from animals.
How young children view the world can be engaging and often makes us laugh. In some follow up questioning by the BBC, one child answered that cheese came from baboons while another thought that rice came from trees.
But joking apart, the importance of consumer perceptions of food should never be underestimated.
The other week on a visit to the local cobbler I was given a little lecture on why not to buy chicken from KFC. According to my cobbler, the chickens that are used to supply KFC with meat have no eyes and no legs. I did not want to get drawn into a discussion as to where KFC is sourcing its chicken drumsticks– perhaps from trees?
And oddly enough, a similar story played out at the weekend when talking to another friend of mine, this one a therapist. According to him, egg producing hens in Europe are kept in tiny cages with no room to move around, and that really you should not buy eggs from supermarkets.
We are both city dwellers so a trip to the local farm is not really an option for either us - so I don’t know where he is buying his eggs if not from supermarkets.
But of greater concern is that given the huge amounts that been invested by European egg producers to adopt alternatives to battery cages, how can there still be consumers, and educated consumers at that, that believe that European eggs come conventional cages?
Engaged marketing or hiding your light?
While views like this persist, the egg industry is really failing to do itself any favours. Yes, I have seen dedicated websites talking about how individual countries have successfully switched production methods, but how many consumers are visiting them?
I am sure that I few years back I saw an advertising campaign that was headed “We listened”. I can’t remember what it was for or who was behind it, but it detailed consumer concerns and how these had been addressed. Might it not be time for something similar in the poultry and egg industries?
If nobody knows what you are doing, how do you expect to be recognized for doing it? And even if you are not too concerned about being recognized for your achievements, are you really happy for negative misconceptions to be circulating about what you do and how you do it?
The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. For any business, and especially any food business, this expression really does not hold true. Urban myths have a nasty habit of spreading, and while I am not expecting to hear again that KFC uses chickens bred without eyes or legs, you never know. Addressing such misconceptions, however, and using methods of communications that reach those that need to be reached can make sure that such beliefs fade into the past.