Food marketing faces big change as millennium nears

1 May 1998

Food marketing faces big change as millennium nears

Food marketing faces big change as millennium nears

SUPERMARKET shopping will peak this decade, David Hughes told delegates to the Womens Food and Farming Unions national conference held at Wye College, Kent. "I shall be surprised if we dont see home shopping get to 10% of the market in the next few years," he said.

"Caution – new millennium ahead," was the title of the address given by Prof Hughes, who holds the Sainsbury chair of agri-business food marketing, Wye College (University of London).

"We have a population of 59m people," he stressed, adding that this figure is not increasing at a significant rate. "The only way you can expand your sales is by taking someone elses and they dont tend to give it up easily."

He used fruit as an example of the way in which markets are changing. The British are among the lowest consumers of fruit in Europe, he said, with only the Irish and the Finns eating less.

"The real growth area in fresh fruit is in fruit juices," he said. With young women the most popular way of eating fruit was suspended in dairy products.

&#42 More Mediterranean

The northern European diet was becoming more Mediterranean, Prof Hughes said, and including more salad vegetables. In fact there is an increasing interest in vegetables but not in root crops or sprouts. People were interested in vegetable-based products for a variety of reasons. The red meat market has been declining for 20 years and butchery sections of supermarkets now have meat-free areas.

There are two kinds of shopping, he said, drudge shopping for everyday items and leisure shopping. The latter category is less price sensitive, and for something special, usually for one or two meals a week.

A third of our expenditure on food is on food eaten away from home and this is the only area of strong growth in the food industry, said Prof Hughes. Supermarkets are now saying that you can "eat out in" and presenting a range of prepared products similar to those available in restaurants, thereby increasing the competitive pressure throughout the industry.

There is growing polarisation in the farm sector between lifestyle and commercial farming, he said. Organic farming is moving firmly into the mainstream, and Prof Hughes expects it will soon have 10% of the market .

Animal welfare was not just a UK phenomenon, said Prof Hughes who recently visited Denmark where he found consumers pressing for free range and welfare friendly practices.

Barbados is another country which Prof Hughes has visited in the course of his work recently. Here he was helping with plans to develop the interior. While tourists flock to the islands beautiful beaches, they will not do so, he says, if the islands agriculture deteriorates and the centre of the island becomes a dust bowl.

The importance of tourism was among the points raised by his colleague, Bryn Green, head of countryside management at the Univeristy of London, Wye College, whose topic was environmentally friendly farming.

&#42 Changing agriculture

The agricultural industry is going to change, particularly at the margins, he said and it is important that farmers lead that change to a new countryside that is not an accidental by product of farming but designed for the 21st century. That is the challenge that faces you all, said Prof Green who favours diverting a significant proportion of the £3bn spent on agricultural support into support for environmental work.

Ruth Gasson, a research fellow at Wye, has made many studies of the way in which women contribute to farming. The majority make their contributions as members of a farm family, she said, and while some of these are actively involved in physical farm work, many carry out clerical and administrative work and act as sounding boards for the principal farmer and "oiling the wheels" of family and other relationships is one of the key tasks of most farmers wives. "And think what happens when wheels are not lubricated," said Dr Gasson.

Diversifications and farm attractions have made more work for women in recent years and nowadays more wives work off the farm and enjoy the social benefits this brings as well as financial ones including pension rights and sick pay.

Looking to the future Dr Gasson saw larger businesses with environmental concerns more to the fore; more paperwork, less income and more farm families relying on somebody bringing home a second income.

"Womens role will be more important rather than less important," she said.

While women seek more recognition in their own families as partners or directors in the farm business, this will not come until there is a radical change in attitudes to succession, said Dr Gasson. The vast majority of men inherit their farms and about half the farmers interviewed for a research project had identified their successors, they were nearly always those with sons. Few farmers appear ready to hand on to a woman.

Ann Rogers

The British are among the lowest consumers of fruit in Europe, said Prof David Hughes who outlined food marketing trends to the WFFU conference.

The agricultural industry is going to change, says Bryn Green, head of countryside management at Wye.

Dr Ruth Gasson sees farm womens role becoming more important in the years to come.

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