One can only wonder at the thought processes of the creative types behind much of the advertising with which we’re constantly bombarded.
Two recent Walmart grocery flyers in my local newspaper — one with a photo of beautiful red strawberries, the other of clusters of on-the-vine tomatoes — have a superimposed logo proclaiming the produce “Picked by farmers.”
Yeah, sure, can’t we just see Farmer Brown out in the strawberry fields picking thousands of cartons of strawberries that will be trucked off to Wally World supermarkets? Or cutting thousands of bunches of tomatoes from their vines?
And to the consumer, buying strawberries or tomatoes, or any other produce, just what special quality or taste does “picked by farmers” imply? What kind of image does it generate? As opposed to what — picked by auto mechanics, maybe?
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Another supermarket’s ads frequently tout produce items as “locally grown for freshness.” Depends, I suppose, on one’s concept of local. Their “local” peaches were from three states away. Ditto their watermelons.
What’s next: ads ballyhooing produce that’s “Grown by farmers”?
One can only surmise that the “Picked by farmers” slogan, however meaningless, is yet another attempt by megalithic grocery chains to try and capitalize on the favorable perception that consumers have for the U.S. farmer. In poll after poll, the American farmer ranks high in trustworthiness and believability.
But the gulf grows ever wider between the farmer who produces the food and the processing/marketing chain that puts it on the supermarket shelves, a sector becoming increasingly concentrated. In a 2013 report, just six huge companies — General Mills, Kraft, ConAgra Foods, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Campbell Soup — were reported as controlling over 60 percent of sales of 100 grocery categories, everything from coffee (64 percent), to soft drinks (91 percent), beer (86 percent), peanut butter (72 percent), cereals (80 percent), and on and on.
In the latest USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service report on the breakdown of the U.S. food dollar, the farmer received an average 15.8 cents. More than 80 cents went to processing, marketing, wholesaling, distribution, and retailing. The amount varies by product — for some, such as a $2.99 bag of potato chips, the farmer’s share is only 23 cents; for a $4.69 bag of potatoes, just 50 cents; for a $1.44 loaf of bread, only 17 cents; for a $6.49 six-pack of beer, just 6 cents. For a $4.29 gallon of fat-free milk, however, the farmer’s share was $2.12; for a $2.99 dozen eggs, the farmer got $1.70.
While the local food movement has carved a niche in recent years, the reality is that most of the food consumed in America comes from large supermarket chains — and advertising aside, probably none of it was “picked by farmers.”