Consumers have a plethora of options when it comes to choosing food, from grocery stores to restaurants. Along with these options comes multiple terms or buzzwords that describe the food. These words could either accurately describe the food or misrepresent the food in a variety of ways. A number of factors can also influence consumer decision when it comes to food. Media, friends, family, or even experiences can play a part in the consumer’s decision of what to purchase, where to purchase it from and the reasons behind their purchasing decision. The panel discussion at Food Dialogues: Minneapolis addressed some of these topics. 

The More You Know, The More You Can Eat

Consumers can sometimes select certain food based on the buzzwords they have heard associated with the food. According to Jen Haugen, registered dietician who sat on the panel at Food Dialogues Minneapolis, education plays a huge role in this case. If people take time to learn and understand the words that describe food, they will have a better understanding of where their food is coming from and how it is grown and raised. It is also important for the consumer to understand how some of these words can misrepresent the food that often media will use to describe it.

Haugen also addressed how it is important that consumers are not “fearful” of food due to the words they have heard associated with it. Often that fear will overpower the steps and actions farmers are trying to take, and have even already taken, in trying to bring information to consumers in order for them to make educated decisions about their food. The fear that surrounds buzzwords can harm their efforts.

Consumer Demands Have Changed the Way Food is Sourced

In today’s society consumers have more demands and desires for certain products, therefore the landscape of information and communication with food companies has started to change. According to director of sustainability at Cargill, Steve Polski, “the landscape has changed over the past several years, and a lot of that is due to the availability of information. Technology has evolved and information has become more readily available.” Consumers are beginning to have access to more information, the number of stakeholders in companies is beginning to increase and there is starting to become more open dialogue between the stakeholders, companies and consumers.

According to Steve Peterson, of Peterson Farms and former director of sustainable sourcing at General Mills, consumers want to know two specific things: where their food comes from and how it is cared for along the way. Peterson, who also sat on the panel at Food Dialogues: Minneapolis, believes it is farmers and ranchers as well as companies who are the ones to help build on and answer these questions. They are the “stewards of the correct information” so they are the ones that need to help answer them.

Are There Cost Limits to Growing and Sourcing Local and Organic Food?

When it comes to the difference and options of local and organic food, consumers have a choice. Consumers have different desires and beliefs of local and organic food. However, it is not always realistic for businesses to simply provide solely organic or solely local food. According to Jorge Guzman, a Minnesota chef of Surly Brewing, his restaurant “supports the model of good food and good food doesn’t mean only organic.” If his restaurant just sourced local, sustainable and organic food, they would not have a restaurant. For example, suppliers of restaurants may not be in the areas that restaurant needs to source from.

There are a variety of responsible ways to source food and spend the businesses’ money that the consumer may be unaware of in their demand for particular food choices. For example, Greg Reynolds, 2015 Midwest organic farmer of the year of Riverbend Farm, addresses the fact that some climates may not be suited for particular crops, so sourcing may be the only option.

It’s up to the consumer if they want to eat the food, but it may sometimes be difficult for chefs and restaurants to balance those choices and cost.

Consumers have many choices when it comes to their food. Although many have their own opinions and beliefs about food, these can often be enforced or quashed from media influence as well. However, consumers have a responsibility to educate themselves about what they are purchasing and eating. Factors such as sourcing and availability often play a part in what restaurants and companies sell. But ultimately it is the consumer’s choice and preference.