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Canadians Trust Local Agriculture Producers – Opportunities Remain to Enhance, from Roadside Trust to the Retail Experience

Michelle Titus

Beyond enjoying the warmer weather at this time of year, I’m obsessed with local, fresh seasonal produce (see here for a guide to fresh Ontario grown produce availability).

There’s no question that this all stems from growing up as a granddaughter of dairy and cash crop farmers with lots of time in fields and barns. I saw first-hand the care, passion, and hard work it takes to produce food for local families to enjoy. During many summers, you could find me at our farm stand selling peaches and cream corn we handpicked at the crack of dawn. Those summer days were a bootcamp in many things – teamwork (sharing tasks with my cousins), math (calculating quick change – not my forté) and customer service.

Something less obvious to me as a kid was the way that my experience in local agriculture exposed me to the concept of trust – specifically how it’s built and how it’s lost.

Canadians trust domestic food producers

Earlier this year, Proof Strategies’ annual CanTrust Index (in its 7th year), added domestic food growers/producers to the list of organizations and industries in our study. It was eye-opening. We found that almost 60 per cent (59%) of Canadians trust domestic producers with trust the highest in Atlantic provinces (69%). Nationally, this compares well to hospitals (64%) and is over 20% higher than the study’s overall index of trust that combines trust in NGOs, media, business and government at 34 per cent.

Throughout the years, and even now, I continue to be interested in corn shopping habits. Based on growing up in the Greater Toronto Area and as a current Toronto resident, this is what I’ve noticed:

Trust at the farm stand

As a kid selling corn, customers asked for a dozen, paid through their car window and then were passed 13 unhusked ears of corn (a Baker’s Dozen) through their car window. No pre-inspection of product. Many were repeat customers, no complaints, no wasted product.

As an adult, when I stop on the side of the road at farm stands (it’s a bit of a hobby for me), the experience has evolved with a mix of consumer approaches. Some partially shuck the corn to inspect the quality of the cob, others want to shuck completely before purchase, and less choose cobs by feel only. But, my favourites are those who trust the seller at the stand and accept a bag, no inspection needed.

Trust off the farm

Working at a well-loved grocery chain as a teen and young adult, I curiously watched customers partially, and then if satisfied, fully shuck corn before choosing it for purchase. If they saw something they deemed unsatisfactory in the partial shuck, they tossed the cob back in the pile – this happened many times before they collected the number they wanted. This became so common, that the produce department had to position garbage bins for customers to discard the corn husks (versus on the floor or in the display). Another consequence was increased waste; customers didn’t want a cob that someone else had shucked and determined wasn’t good enough (not to mention, it loses freshness once shucked even partially).

Now, in some stores, we are seeing less (or zero) unhusked in season, local corn. Instead, corn is shucked, packaged and shrink wrapped. What this means is the product isn’t as fresh. Stores with local unhusked corn will have a bin to discard the husks to accommodate customers’ continued inspection efforts along with likely increased waste of unsellable, partially shucked cobs.

Opportunities to build more trust

So, what does this all mean? Retailers need to capture the farm stand trust and put it on display in the store. There is also opportunity to educate consumers on the local product regardless of where they are purchasing it. Trust appears to be more prevalent the closer a consumer is to the source.

Four tips for purchasing corn without unwrapping the freshness

Remember: The cornhusk is nature’s shrink wrap and helps maintain freshness. You can determine the freshness and quality by look and feel – and trust me, there’s no need to unwrap:

Do you pre-husk corn before purchase? Try out these tips and let me know how it goes!