Problem Solver: Farm pictures on supermarket food can be the real deal
Q: Do you agree photographs of smiling farmers that supermarkets now use is a bit fake, and trying to paint a picture that the supermarkets really care?
A: It is not so much about the photograph, but rather what lies behind it in terms of commitment to working with Irish farmers, growers and producers.
Twenty-five years ago, Superquinn was the first supermarket in Ireland to make genuine efforts at working with farmers. We made commitments to take certain crops which were grown on our behalf, had an open policy of listing small and early-stage producers which other retailers wouldn't and trying to find ways to raise the standard of the various food categories to the benefit of the farmer or the grower.
We were the first supermarket in the world to use DNA traceability to link all of our meat back to the actual farm it was raised on. On many meat categories we had the individual farmers' name on the pack.
For us it was not fake. It was real and it was demonstrable through traceability systems back to real people. I think what you are referring to in today's mass marketing by some retailers are some of the more generic statements, whereby a single farmer is shown, not the specific one who had grown a product. There is nothing wrong with it, but it is somewhat superficial and much more could be done to bring the traceability systems that exist to life in a more realistic way.
I recall being in a Champion supermarket in France and as the manager was giving me a tour, a farmer in muddy boots and leeks with the roots still on them came in trundling through the front door with boxes he was unloading from his trailer right outside the front door. The manager explained that he had discretion from his head office to buy one farm-based product directly. His customers loved it. This is traceability at its best. Something that is cut and picked within a few hours and only a few kilometres down the road.
Q: I have started a new dog-walking service. While I have a small number of good clients, I am struggling to create awareness. Is there any suggestions you can make?
A: Congratulations on starting your business. You can have the best business in the world and be providing the best service, but if people don't know you exist you will always struggle with the revenue you need. I am assuming your service is focused on a specific geographic area and therefore your efforts should concentrate on this catchment.
Start by building a good digital media presence and setting aside a budget of €20 or €30 a week to target people from that area. Another good idea might be to go to the local park where people walk their dogs and spend some time there handing out leaflets and talking to people about your service. There are probably certain times of the day when you could be quite productive and meet lots of people from that area.
You could also incentivise your existing customers to introduce you to others by giving them a discount for a month for every introduction they give you. You might even get some benefit from using the old fashioned tool of door-to-door leaflets, although many of these will end up going into houses where no dog is present.
The overriding message is to think about your target customer and where they congregate. That will be the easiest way to reach them. If there are pet stores in your area, they may be very happy for you to leave leaflets at their tills, and also come in on the occasional day with a promotional pull-up banner and stand to talk to customers about the service you offer.
Personal interaction with as many people as possible in your area will probably yield the highest results.