Apr 7, 2007
Boston Trip Provides Insight to Industry Diversification

So how come nobody told me Boston was the coolest city ever?

History, scenery, shopping, entertainment, eye candy – it’s all there. Last month, I spent hours walking around downtown and saw only a fraction of what the city has to offer.

Oh yeah. I also got some work done. I took part in the 2005 conference of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association, held in The Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers, right smack dab in the middle of town.

During the conference, I and hundreds of other people with a vested interest in the fruit and vegetable industry learned more about diversification and marketing from farmers and business owners who – one way or another – have found success.

Farmers, it seems, have to go to great lengths these days to succeed – or just to survive. Being new to agriculture, I’m surprised at some of the issues farmers have to grapple with in order to stay in business.

What demographic are we shooting for? What pattern should we use for the corn maze? Should we display our meat in a flat glass case or a curved glass case? Should we hold dances or seminars in our barn during the off-season? And so on.

Farmers today really have to think on their feet. As far as I can tell, farmers in the ancient world didn’t have to worry about all that marketing stuff. They had their plows and their cows and they were fine.

Of course, that’s probably a naïve way of looking at the past. Farmers have always had problems like weather and war to deal with, but life on a farm was generally a bit more static than it is today.

Speaking of looking at the past, I have a vague memory involving marketing research and fruit that might be instructive – or it might be a complete waste of time. Let’s find out.

It was fourth, maybe fifth, grade. My fellow students and I were riveted to our teacher, who asked us a simple question: What’s the perfect snack?

It sounded easy enough, but there was a catch. We couldn’t just tell him our favorite snack. He required a more scientific approach. We had to compare several snacks, and rank them according to size, taste, appearance, nutritional value, etc. The snack that received the highest overall ranking would qualify as our perfect choice.

When we finally added the rankings together, we discovered that our choice for the perfect snack was… an apple.

We groaned. An apple?

Apple growers, I’m sure, would have been thrilled at the response, but for most of the youngsters in that classrooom, a boring old apple was far from the top of the list of perfect snacks. Maybe after a Twinkie.

The thing is, we chose the apple. We gave it the top spot. We seemed to know objectively that apples were superior to Twinkies, but we still preferred Twinkies.

I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from that. Maybe it’s that scientific or marketing research doesn’t always tell the whole story. Objective criteria don’t always take into account subjective instincts, gut feelings and impulsive desires.

Then again, perhaps those desires are created, or enhanced, by scientific or marketing research. After all, it must have taken a potent marketing blitz to make kids more familiar with Twinkies than they were with apples. After all, apples have been around forever. How long have Twinkies been around?

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