Redefining quality in the consumer mind

Consumers are willing to pay more for products with higher quality – perceived or real. And retailers – especially farmers – should be taking advantage of this opportunity by creating a relationship between their brand and the consumers they wish to sell it to.

That’s the message Harvey Hartman, a US consumer researcher, brought to the Agricultural Adaptation Council annual meeting in Guelph today. When they’re shopping, a growing segment of consumers is looking for experience, authenticity, distinction and specialization.

“We make time for what’s important to us,” says Hartman, adding that speed and mass production is no longer the main attraction for shoppers. McDonald’s used to pride itself in serving customers a uniform product in as little time as possible to help people manage their busy schedules. But those times changed, he says, and cited an example of McDonald’s customers who got their meals in the drive through but then sat in their cars and ate in the parking lot.

“Those people weren’t too busy to stop and eat,” he says, “but they felt that nothing inside the restaurant gave them an experience to feel good about.”

Quality today is not about price, or about something being elite or sophisticated. It is also not just for special occasions any more. These days, quality is defined by transparency, trust, pleasure and indulgence, shared values between food producers and food consumers, and by people, places and traditions. As our society becomes wealthier, consumers upgrade their lives on a regular basis – cars, homes, clothes and even food.

“People now eat daily what used to be reserved for special occasions,” says Hartman. “Today, we want every day to be a special occasion. And we’re willing to pay for that.”

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