by Melissa Piper Nelson
What do consumers want — what will consumers buy? We are all aware that large amounts of dollars go into researching the buying habits of food shoppers. While studies show the local food movement (direct sales) is still trending upward, one consumer watch group identifies a mega-shift toward healthy convenience foods. Convenience, it seems, is still very important to almost every segment of food and beverage shoppers.

The majority of consumers are buying “green” or healthy alternatives, but sales point to those items that are easiest to take from farm or store to table. Products that are pre-sliced, packaged for either single sales or family-size, ready to eat or convenient to cook, are selected most often. We may be eating healthier, but we still want easy-to-use products.
This trend speaks to the produce aisles in the grocery store where whole products are surrounded by pre-chopped and pre-prepared versions as well. This follows the convenience packaging success of salad mixes, lettuces and salad toppings such as cooked meats, chopped fruits and nuts and shredded cheeses.
Buyers may have asked you how to prepare or preserve the produce you are selling, or what foods or beverages to pair with a certain item. Knowledge is key to buyers feeling confident that what they are purchasing will be of value to them or to their family and friends. Departments of Agriculture publish books showing regional produce and describing the time each item is available through the year and how it can be used. With more people generations removed from the farm and food production, these types of guides help buyers make informed decisions. On the front line, however, you can provide first-hand helpful information for buyers with recipe cards, cooking instructions, meal planning guides and informative print or social media messages.
Choice is another important factor. Main line consumers are used to shopping in chain or big box grocery stores where the choices seem limitless. While most direct marketers cannot provide this overwhelming plethora of goods, consumers will still gravitate toward a variety of options. That’s the lesson farmers’ market vendors have learned; colorful stacks of goods attract attention and often lead to increased sales. Even different varieties or colors of the same product offer choices for consumers.
While convenience fits into most of our lifestyles today, we still need to be aware that choosing convenience over what is truly healthy often is not the better option. This is important to convey to buyers who are looking to you for answers. Is it easy to cook, what could you make with it, what does it go with? You need to think about the questions buyers may pose and how you will respond.  Direct meat marketers know that some cuts of meats are better suited for cooking at low temperatures for longer times, or that a certain cut of meat is best suited for the grill versus the oven. When you provide good instructions and helpful hints to buyers, you offer added assurance about the product and the outcome.
Another part of the mega-shift in local foods is that increasingly more sales from farms are going through intermediate marketing channels including distributors and specialty food stores. Again, while convenience for the buyer flows through these channels, educating consumers should still be part of your job as a producer and seller. You need to ask others handling your product what types of labels and instructions will guide consumers when purchasing and using your product. Having some input into this system provides continued point to point contact between buyer and seller. A label message can direct buyers to recipes on your website or information about seasonal and local eating.
Convenience may be the future mega-shift of consumer habits, and we may be moving our goods and services through different channels, but quality and nutrition still play a major role in buying habits. How you adjust your production and marketing to support these factors will be important to continued success. Buyers are showing they desire a connection to know where their food comes from and how it is produced and sold. Direct marketers and farm sales operations are now challenged with finding the right mix of convenience with quality and educating the buyer to why both are best.
The above information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be substituted for professional legal or business counseling.