Farming opinion: ‘Millennials’ should be key consumer group for farmers

Richard Anscombe

Richard Anscombe - Credit: Archant

‘If you are only going to talk to one group of consumers then make sure it’s the millennials’.

Harvard Business School (HBS) in Massachusetts. Picture: RICHARD ANSCOMBE

Harvard Business School (HBS) in Massachusetts. Picture: RICHARD ANSCOMBE - Credit: Archant

That was the key take-away message from a fascinating five-day agri-business course which I attended recently at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in Massachusetts.

In my article published in the East Anglian Daily Times on November 1 highlighted the need to encourage the ‘Next Generation’, because they represent the future of our industry.

Listening to the professor who summarised the week’s proceedings at HBS underlined the need to understand, acknowledge and respond to the behavioural patterns and purchasing habits of this key consumer group.

Generally regarded as those born between 1982 and 2000, millennials are vital to the future of all industries, including farming and food production.

A speakers addresses delegates at the agri-business course at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in M

A speakers addresses delegates at the agri-business course at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in Massachusetts. Picture: RICHARD ANSCOMBE - Credit: Archant

Much less receptive than previous generations to having products and services ‘pushed’ on them through traditional media channels and marketing, many distrust large corporations/organisations, are very independent-minded and want to choose/customise the products/services they purchase.

Take food, for example. Many millennials do not follow traditional eating patterns, and for many family meals are a thing of the past, which means immense change for the agri-business/food sector. Millennials increasingly favour fresh, environmentally-sustainable produce, so it will be interesting to see the impact of developments such as Amazon’s recent 13.7bn US dollar (£9.81bn) purchase of Whole Foods.

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The UK is but a small dot on the global landscape, so farmers and food producers must be aware of what is happening in other countries, understand the threats and opportunities which a fast-changing global environment presents and be creative when thinking about the future.

At Harvard, we studied 12 companies which are at the cutting edge of their sector. They included farm machinery manufacturer John Deere, natural animal nutrition and health product manufacturer Alltech, ground-breaking tomato producer Nature Sweet, American multi-national Kelloggs, Mondel?z International Inc, one of the world’s largest snack companies and Yili Industrial Group, the largest dairy producer in China, where demand for milk is increasing by 11% annually.

The agri-business course in full flow at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in Massachusetts. Picture

The agri-business course in full flow at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in Massachusetts. Picture: RICHARD ANSCOMBE - Credit: Archant

Each was evaluated by a Harvard professor and every session attended by a very senior person within the business. It was tremendously beneficial to spend time with leaders in the global agri-business and food sectors, including the managing director of Kelloggs, chief executive of Mondelez International Inc and Dr Mark Lyons, global vice president of Alltech.

Alltech is a strong, dynamic family business with a strong vision of the future and what is required to operate sustainably. They understand absolutely their market, constantly challenge what they do and how they do it, encourage employees and stay very close to their customers.

They also exhibit an urgency to identify new opportunities, then commit to making them happen, an approach which resonates strongly with my own views on how to run a successful company.

I would encourage those in farming to bear these characteristics in mind when thinking about their own businesses.

Fram Famers chief executive on an agri-business course at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in Massa

Fram Famers chief executive on an agri-business course at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in Massachusetts. Picture: RICHARD ANSCOMBE - Credit: Archant

Think also about the resources you have at your disposal in terms of assets and knowledge and consider how you can ‘own’ the relationship with your customers/consumers. The closer that relationship the more you will understand their requirements and the better your business will be for it.

HBS highlighted that although the world is awash with financial capital to invest, not nearly enough is finding its’ way into developing human capital, the life blood of any business. In the future, the pace of change in agriculture will never be as slow as it is today, so I would urge those of you with your own next generation to encourage them to gain an eclectic view of the world by working in different business, geographical and cultural environments.

More than 180 delegates attended the agri-business course at Harvard Business School.

Richard Anscombe is chief executive of Fram Farmers, a farmer-owned purchasing and marketing co-operative based at Framlingham. It provides the purchasing, grain marketing and administrative function for over 1400 farming businesses across the UK.

Farmers should be talking to millennials, says Richard Anscombe. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK

Farmers should be talking to millennials, says Richard Anscombe. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto