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Responding to Consumer Trends is Key for Producers

March 22, 2016
Contact: Shelly Mayer
800-947-7379 or
EDITOR’S NOTE: A variety of news releases summarizing speakers at the 2016 PDPW Business Conference is available at this link:
Responding to Consumer Trends is Key for Producers

In the name of equipping dairy producers with a clearer look at what consumers want from their food providers and dining experiences, a panel of industry leaders shared recent trends in the food system and restaurant industry at the recent 2016 PDPW Business Conference. Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, led a panel discussion that also featured Craig Culver, Co-Founder and Board Chairman of Culver’s Franchising Systems, Inc., and Annika Stensson, Director of Research Communications for the National Restaurant Association.

“Consumer views are influenced by size and scale of the dairy operation. The larger your farm, company or organization, the more likely a consumer will believe you’ll put your profit ahead of their interest,” said Arnot. As the CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, Arnot educates about the importance of building consumer trust and confidence in today’s food systems.

Data from a 2015 Center for Food Integrity survey shows that while 27% of respondents say they strongly agree ‘small farms are likely to put their interests ahead of my interests’ almost half (47%) of respondents say they strongly agree that ‘large farms are likely to put their interests ahead of my interests’. In light of this information, Arnot emphasized that those in food and agriculture production need to work with public interests in mind, while also managing profit margins.

Arnot went on to explain that consumers want to be confident their food truly is what it’s marketed to be. They want food producers to be competent and in tune with their needs. They’re also influenced by the opinions of nutrition experts in the media and food-focused television programs, web sites and blogs.  

“Historically, we have been decidedly science-based in agriculture, so we assume the consumer is, too,” Arnot said. “But surveys show that confidence in the source of their food is three to five times more important to them than the technical details.”

Arnot also explained that price is no longer the only factor in food choices. “Taste and convenience, health and wellness, food safety, environmental and social impact all play a role in consumer decisions.”

Craig Culver shared similar findings. His take on consumer trends shed more direct light on the beef and dairy side of the story.  “To stay competitive in our (Culver’s franchise) business, we need to meet market demands,” Culver said. “Some of these demands include menu options that consider gluten intolerance, salt intake, soda consumption, food allergies and menu labeling. Health and wellness is a big factor driving market trends.”  

“Food safety is of top concern in the industry,” Culver says. “And as a restaurant owner, it can be challenging, since one small mistake can have dramatic consequences not just for our franchise but also for the whole industry.”

Culver expressed that in an industry heavily reliant on dairy and beef products, traceability is becoming increasingly important to consumers.  “Just a handful of years ago, there was a sense in the industry that the burger business was dying. I’m happy to report to you that the burger business is alive and well,” Culver says. “I’m also happy to assure you that at Culver’s we continue to have a great need for your milk. Last year, we sold over 6 million gallons of custard… and that takes a lot of milk.”

Annika Stensson shared her perspectives from the National Restaurant Association and pointed to the ever-changing consumer trends in the restaurant industry as a whole. “Today’s consumer is much more experienced when it comes to food and dining. They’re more sophisticated and they want more choices,” Stensson said. “When it comes to choosing restaurants, they make decisions based not just on favorite menu items and healthy options, but they’re also interested in innovative foods, local foods and eco-friendly foods.”

According to Stensson, the industry’s average consumer is more knowledgeable and takes a more holistic approach to food choices. They have higher expectations from their dining experiences. “Also trending are diet-specific foods and international food choices. As consumers dine out more often, they are looking to makes those experiences more memorable and interesting.”

More highlights from the conference are available at

Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin is a dairy-producer founded organization that provides educational programs and services to fellow dairy producers. PDPW’s mission is “to share ideas, solutions, resources, and experiences that help dairy producers succeed.”