While most of us have only a limited interest in where our phones, shoes and cars are made, almost everyone cares where, how, and by whom their food is produced. Indeed, most supermarkets have trumpeted their close links to farmers for this reason, and occasionally made short-lived attempts to make that closeness a reality. However it is expensive to deal directly with hundreds of small scale, often cantankerous farmers whose crops and products are less reliable than the mass-produced alternative; it is also problematic if customers start wanting produce from a particular farm, thereby reducing bargaining power when supermarkets want to drive down the farmgate price. A genius in marketing came up with the answer; invent fictitious, delightfully compliant and reliable farms like Tesco’s ‘Boswell’ and ‘Woodside’ farms; they sound plausible as the source of their steak and sausages, but turn out to be figments of a marketer’s imagination, with the meat coming from who knows where.
Will they get away with insulting their customers with such blatant deception? Perhaps; according to current marketing speak, “we all think a lot less than we think we think” ie. we are less considered and more emotional in our decisions than most of us realise, or as psychologists put it, we are ‘cognitive misers’. As such, deceptive marketing takes advantage of our susceptibility to vague emotionally appealing messages and our reluctance to critically analyse facts.
Are we really wired this way? Perhaps so, but I believe trust plays a part too. I hope it’s reassuring that Riverford is a real place which you can visit to see our crops and our farming co-op, meet our staff, see that it is founded and owned by a real person, and observe first hand how our values have a constancy that is not subject to flights of marketing fancy. Perhaps such principled commitment has its downsides; the founder of a competing veg box supplier once said, “The problem with you Guy is that you’re so “f***ing boring”; if that’s the price of constancy and reality, it is a badge I will wear with pride.