Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Getting Beyond Buzz Words...

Sustainable, Local, Natural, Organic, and all those other "label" words are pretty big right now. And I have to admit that I have used them quite a bit here on the blog and in conversation with people all over the place. Sometimes I think that they are best thing we have to describe what we are doing and what we are striving to do, but there are other times when I think that words just can't say enough or even that certain words are losing their meaning. Words are important to me ... so, this is the kind of stuff that I think of from time to time.

But, as I read Allan Nation's July, 2nd blog post about Horizon Brands new "natural dairy" line of products the idea of word labels and categories really started bouncing around in my mind. Check out this quote from Mr. Nation's blog post:
"Dean Foods’ Horizon Brands plans to create a 'natural dairy' line to profit from consumers’ increasing disillusionment with Certified organic dairy products. Sales growth from organic products has flattened as consumers have learned that much of today’s organic milk did not come from pristine little pastoral farms in Vermont as they had supposed but from large-scale feedlot dairies in the West."
Basically it is time to change the label because the "organic secret" got out. The word "organic" no longer gets milk out of the fridge case quick enough and at a high enough volume so the powers that be in the marketing department have decided that "natural" must be the new thing on the label. I suppose they are hoping that this will bring back all their old organic customers and add some new natural customers.

Of course if this quote is to be trusted it also seems that it will make life easier for the Horizon company:
"Deans new Horizon "natural dairy" line will only claim that the milk is from cows who have not been given bovine growth hormones. This frees them to access all of their milk from industrial dairies without fear of media exposure or chastisement."
I understand our need for labels and descriptive words, but I do have a hard time understanding how easily we let those words influence our purchasing and thought process. Oh well, I guess I'll just invent a word or phrase for our farm ... kind of like Joel Salatin has done!


E Hanna said...

I've got one for your products ... how about "earthlicious" ... catchy, huh? :)

C-re said...

I agree that these catch phrases have been thrown about a good bit. BUT, I think sales flattening out can be directly attributed to the economy. I mean, a GALLON of organic milk is over $6! That's ridiculous. I used to buy it on closeout and freeze it when it was 2.99-3.99 but now, regular milk is 2.18 so it's hard to justify it to my hubs. For us, we had to focus on getting by. That meant organic milk had to go.

In defense of agriculture, Americans created these massive farms. We are no longer content to wait until something is in season or it meets market weight, etc. Instead we want it fast and now and agriculture met that demand. And now, ag is the bad guy. Do I like corporate farms? No. Do I love my farmers market and buying meat directly from the farm? Yes. Do I have my own chickens? Yes. Until Americans are willing to actually pay the price for food, we will continue to produce as we are. Right now, we want cheap food NOW and not good food in a little while. Sad really.

Leon said...

Ethan, great post. I think it's a less of a problem when they sell industrially produced milk or meat than when they greenwash it like that because that's lying and it pushes off the road people who actually do produce organic or natural products. It's also scary to think about the power of their PR/marketing people - they can steal words! I mean, think about that - they can take a word, change what it means (seriously, on what planet natural means simply "no growth hormones") and then give it back to us and we will use it. "Honey, don't buy that natural milk ... it's not natural at all"

C-re is right on when she said that it all comes down to the food prices. They're ridiculously low now comparing to 60 years ago or before that. And yes, 60 years ago small scale agriculture was a profitable enterprise. Cheap food or profit for people who do it the right way - you can have one or the other but not both I guess.

What many people don't realize though is
- cheap food isn't cheap (we're spending less on the food but we're spending way more on health care and taxes that go to subsidize the "cheap" food production) and
- we don't really have the option of just continuing with industrially produced cheap food. Food will become more expensive (that is - realistically priced) soon and it actually started to happen already when the crisis skewed the picture. But the long-term trend is there and it will emerge again as soon as the monetary system goes back into normal operations mode. Why? Because cheap food requires lots of cheap fertile lands, lots of cheap oil and lots of cheap water. The first two are things of the past already and the third one is getting there pretty fast.

So, I wouldn't be surprised if in 30 years all of our food is actually natural. Unfortunately, that probably also means that $2 a gallon milk will be something that only old people remember about :)

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