GMO-Free Cheese and Consumer Education: A Whey Forward.

A few things caught my attention on Twitter and elsewhere this week.  One thing I liked (maybe as it fits my beliefs that firms should be able to do what they want with their own money) is Gord Gilmour’s op-ed on GMO-free cheese by Manitoba firm Bothwell.  While the science is overwhelmingly clear that GM products pose no health risk for humans, there are still some folks who do not wish to consume these products.  Bothwell took this as an opportunity to work with those in their supply chain (farmers) to see if they could source some milk produced using GMO-free feed.  It seems enough farmers agreed that they could make this work that the plan was set in motion. I’ll be interested to see how the market responds.

Some say that the industry should educate consumers (everybody’s an educator now, I guess) instead of providing products and services that consumers demand.  I generally have two issues with this line of reasoning.  First, what is the plan if after the consumer is ‘educated’ they still want the product that you are not producing? Do you then produce it as the education plan was not effective or do you pass on the opportunity to create a customer?  Either choice could be correct based on firm-level economics, but it is overly simplistic to think that consumers can be brought back to the commodification of retail food products through education.  Secondly, and this is more from a marketing theory perspective, as stated by Peter Drucker, the purpose of the firm is to create a customer. This is done through marketing and innovation.  It’s somewhat hard to do that when a portion of the marketing budget is directed at telling significant amounts of prospective customers that they are in need of more education.

IF firms within the agricultural supply chain are adamant that they want to be in the education game, then they need to first listen to the customer to see where the information provided can help steer them to your product.  Going on about the safety of GM technology or the features of reduced pesticide application through the technology is irrelevant if this information does not add value or otherwise benefit the customer. Sure, it benefits the producer and perhaps the supply chain, but the information must clearly indicate how this product or process or whatever adds value to the customer.  If the education and advocacy blitz does not solve a problem they have, then it is ultimately not going to have the intended effect.