The customer is king – it’s an old adage that Australia’s $ 59 billion agricultural industry grows bigger as the world moves towards ‘personalized nutrition’.
- Steve Hatfield-Dodds says agriculture industry should take the lead in GMO debate
- Figuring out what consumers want could be a challenge for the Australian agricultural industry
- Understanding the consumer will help industry target export offerings
Understanding what motivates consumers will be one of the key factors in ensuring its continued growth, said Steve Hatfield-Dodds, executive director of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), at the annual summit of organization in Canberra today.
“Understanding the consumer of tomorrow will be essential, both to target our export offerings and to protect Australia’s reputation,” he said.
“It will be important to lean in and engage, rather than letting others shape the agenda.”
Dr Hatfield-Dodds urged the industry to lead the debate on genetic modification (GM) and other consumer concerns.
“There are interesting and compelling arguments that GMOs are good for the environment in several ways that involve fewer pesticides, often involve less use of extracted water, and improve food safety. Oils for example “, did he declare.
“With Asia becoming an increasingly important market for Australia, what do high-income Asian consumers think of GMOs? Are they sensitive to the question like the Europeans or not?
“It would be a high-risk strategy to imagine that the preferences of consumers of a future high-income Chinese or Indonesian will be the same as those of a high-income European or North American.”
Emphasis should not be on buying habits
But figuring out what consumers really want and why they want it can be tricky.
Rachel Ankeny, of the Food Values Research Group at the University of Adelaide, warns that the focus should be on their underlying values, not their purchasing habits.
“For example, in Australia, concern for the environment is usually low on the list of priorities for organic food buyers,” she said.
“Our research has shown that people buy organic food because they perceive it to be more nutritious, although this is not proven, and people buy eggs from free-range hens for quality and taste rather than mainly for animal welfare reasons.
The issue of GMOs is particularly relevant in Australia at the moment, with the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) having proposed relaxation of regulations regarding gene editing techniques.
At the same time, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand are examining new breeding techniques and how food laws should apply to products derived from them.
Rowan McMonnies of Australian Eggs says genetic developments could have real benefits for her industry by allaying consumer concerns about animal welfare.
He said male chicks – which are unable to lay eggs – are currently being killed after they hatch, but genetic tagging technology could identify the male from the female in the shell.
“It is important as an industry that we engage in these discussions with consumers,” he said.