Thursday, 19 February 2015

Why Australians need a food scare.

Apathy is rife in Australia.

The comfort of ignorance is our national pastime.

What we don’t know won’t hurt us.  Wrong.

So it is that consumers, food retailers and policy-makers alike have just been dealt a serious reality-check.

Everyone has leapt to their own vindication in a bemusing flurry of blame and finger-pointing.

“I didn’t understand” is not a defence.

Let’s be clear.  Product labelling is not a cause.  It is symptomatic of the fact that Australians will shove anything into their shopping trolley.

Exactly two years ago I published the following opinion piece.

This week is one of mixed emotions for me.

Horrified it came true; thrilled by the catalyst for change.

Australia needs a food-safety scare

Australian food consumers need a food-safety scare, so they wake-up to their dangerous indifference about how the food system has changed.  People are simply not asking enough questions about where their food comes from and how it was prepared.

A crazy proposition I know; but I have experimented with this topic in dozens of conversations.

Changing peoples’ attitudes is a significant challenge.  As the best marketers will tell you, it’s very, very difficult.  Indifference is possibly the toughest of them all.

Australia’s agricultural and food production industries have tried repeatedly to change the indifferent attitude of Australian consumers.  Campaigns have been aspirational at best and it isn’t working.

Australian’s have a strange habit of saying one thing and doing the complete opposite – despite what they tell us in numerous surveys about food.
It is not confined to buying groceries.  For example, Australians say they will donate their organs - but don’t.  Australians say they will give blood – but don’t.

This phenomenon is known as stated preferences versus revealed preferences.  Revealed preference is an academic way of saying that people are actually very lazy.
Understanding how Australian consumers behave highlights the need for better marketing strategy.

A key tactic for changing someone’s indifferent attitude is to find the associated pressure-point in their life - and press it.

So where is the pressure-point for Australian food consumers?  It’s inside their homes and in their fridge; in their pantry and on their dining table.  We need to get a message about food into peoples’ lounge rooms.

If people are nervous about what they are putting into their kids lunch boxes; what’s going into the fridge; what’s going onto the kitchen table at night – they will start to ask questions.

People talk when they are nervous and so the message is leveraged through the power of shared experience.  If something happens to make Australian consumers nervous about where their food comes from, it becomes a shared experience.  Picture this - it would be the number one topic at school drop-off points, in the school canteens, at family functions, at kids sport on Saturday mornings, Facebook and so on.

The power of questioning turns retailers into allies of our food industry.  A food-safety scare would cause consumers to start hammering food retailers with questions, questions and more questions about the food on their shelves.  Nothing makes a corporation change faster than when they are getting beaten around the head by angry communities who are banging their fists on the table demanding that ‘if you don’t answer our questions, we’ll shop somewhere else.’

Unfortunately, people are simply not asking questions about their food.

How do we scare people without making them sick?

Remember the Grim Reaper advertisements on TV that scared everyone into changing their social habits.

A legendary campaign, watched in peoples’ lounge rooms around Australia every night in 1987.  My idea is that we do a similar ‘grim reaper’ campaign about imported food, to show consumers what might happen if there is an accident regarding imported food from a country that has poor production safety standards.

If we had a grim reaper bowling an imported apple at a bunch of school kids, I think it would get peoples’ attention.  Watch the ad now and imagine it talking about imported food. Replace the words always use condoms with always read the label.

So, what I’ve been proposing all along is that we don’t have an actual food safety scare and people actually start getting sick – we create one, by putting the notion in peoples’ heads of what might happen if they don’t change their poor attitude.  That’s all the Aids campaign did – the people watching it did the rest e.g. remember all the talk about the ad?

How do we know this works?  Well, at the moment there are other countries in the process of restructuring their entire food chain, because there was a food safety scare and consumers have now demanded change.  But for them it was too late.  Think horse meat.  Think baby formula.  Think milk contamination.

Anyway, just a few thoughts to make a point and stir discussion - because I don’t think what we’ve been doing are very effective.

What do you think?  Should we use the Grim Reaper tactic?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

New Year Offer: Boost your leadership team for less than $15 a day.

It's the festive season and we feel like giving away some of our time.
For the month of January, SOS Interim is offering regional small to medium agribusiness and food enterprises located ANYWHERE in Australia, the chance to improve the likelihood of success in 2015 for less than $15 a day using our Support Panel service.
A cost-effective and flexible way to get help, this is a complete package including 4 quarterly on-site visits and preparation, access to mentor and coach 24/7 x 365 and includes all travel expenses.
We'll come to wherever you are.
It's that simple to get help. It's that easy to get help.
Most suited for:
  • Small and medium business
  • Regional business
  • New or young business
  • Family business
  • Agribusiness and food business
Offer limited to the first 5 businesses.
Sounds tempting but why should you seriously consider this offer?
Support Panels support you and your business.
It's a great way of providing a strategic boost to your leadership team.
Running a business is a lonely job.
In a country that is increasingly city-centric, owning and operating a regional business is even lonelier.
Regional business is tough business.
The unofficial source of much trusted advice in the regions is family, friends, accountants, lawyers and other industry peers.
This type of 'buddy' system has good intentions and is seen as a 'safe' environment for getting feedback about your business - but can be very ineffective.
It is often the case that people simply don't understand your business and what you're going through to make it all happen and hold it all together.
Forming your own ideas about the direction of your business then becomes difficult, if based on the opinions of others.
For many regional business owners "no one knows this game like I do" and are not seeking any help at all.
So what have other owners and operators been doing to get ahead of the game?
Some of the best product innovations, business models and new market initiatives to come out of regional Australia in recent times, are from organisations that have formed a Support Panel.
A Support Panel is a small group of independent mentors that use their complimentary skills and experience to provide advice on the strategic direction of your business.
These people do not have formal authority to make decisions on behalf of your business. The structure is flexible and informal.
Support Panels allow owners and operators to step away from day-to-day management issues and focus on the growth and development of their business, using a forum that challenges critical thinking.
Doing things right is always important. But true value for regional business is created when people have the opportunity to ask if in fact the business is doing the right things.
A Support Panel is functioning at it's best when:
  • The business owners and operators are open to receiving input from others.
  • Input from mentors is strategic, constructive and relevant to the current needs of the business.
  • Everyone keeps an open mind and actively participates.
  • Communication is open and honest.
  • Everyone is being challenged with critical thinking.
Support Panels are a proven technique that serve as an informal guide to help your business learn, grow and perform better.
If this sounds like something that meets your needs in 2015, we would love for you to take up our offer.
Alternatively, please refer our offer to anyone you know could use a helping-hand.
In the meantime, we wish you all the very best in your endeavours for 2015 and beyond.
Jeremy Lomman

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Blockbuster 2015 ahead for SOS Interim. Here's a sneak-peek.

SOS Interim is looking at a blockbuster 2015 thanks to inspiring clients with amazing vision.

Sometimes owning and operating a business is like going down the Ulanga River on the African Queen.

But despite choppy economic waters and the feeling Australia is lost at sea without a rudder, we’ve plotted the charts for some awesome agribusiness and food projects in 2015.

It’s always a privilege to be welcomed into someone’s business and help navigate a brighter future.

The great thing about interim management is when a doer helps a doer, within a few weeks the business is already achieving outcomes.

Here’s snippet of what’s on the horizon in 2015 for SOS Interim:

  • National expansion of fertiliser company
  • Launch of food marketing and distribution company
  • Food product development for export
  • Export marketing program linking local producers with international processors
  • Launch of new regional centre for business, trade and entrepreneurship
  • A new business model for suppliers of inputs and services to industry

As usual my nose will remain buried in university textbooks to ensure people receive cutting-edge help.

Here’s to all the idea-makers and dream-weavers keeping it real.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Commodity Fetishism

I’d like to introduce you to a common type of fetish you may not have heard of, but regularly enjoy.

It’s called commodity fetishism and was first described by Karl Marx way back in 1867.

It’s having a significant impact on the profitability and sustainability of regional business.

How so?

There are two headlines that continue to dominate the media.
They are: households complaining about the cost of living and, businesses complaining about the cost of operating.

We have been groomed with new lifestyle expectations; totally convinced that everything must be had as an absolute necessity.

But as business owners we have also been groomed as consumers of inputs.

Our behaviour as business owners can also drive-up the cost of doing business.

Social researcher Mark McCrindle calls this expectation inflation.

Are we so convinced that as business owners we must have the latest, the biggest or the most of everything?

A tempting proposition.

However, overcapitalising our business beyond its reasonable productive capacity will derail it.

But why would any business owner in their right mind deliberately derail their own business?

A driving force behind commodity fetishism within a business is risk appetite.  Financial literacy is a key measure of risk appetite – normally.  But when commodity fetishism takes hold, we make purchasing decisions the implications of which we don’t understand.

Tammy May of My Budget fame has a simple yet thriving business helping those who have ‘overcapitalised’ the household budget.

Interestingly, the Regional Australia Institute identified that poor financial skills is potentially the single biggest factor negatively impacting the prosperity of regional business.

As we hang-up our stockings and think about spending, perhaps as business owners we should make 2015 a ‘socks-n-jocks’ year.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

DIDO employees are shrinking regional economies.

I write a fortnightly column for a newspaper based in the Mid North of South Australia.

We tackle all things rural, regional, agribusiness and food.

Some pieces are light, topical and trending.  Some dig deeper, exploring life as a business based in the regions.

As with any of the articles or opinion pieces I’ve had published over years, there’s the anticipation of at which point you’ll touch a nerve.

A recent column that raised the issue of DIDOs in our region did just that – hit a nerve.

So I wanted to share it with my broader network and hear peoples’ feedback.

What are some examples of economic strategies to mitigate the impact of DIDOs?

With the magic of hindsight, it’s easy to see that our region was totally exposed to the creeping phenomenon of the DIDO worker.

Millions of dollars generated / provided by the region is extracted (paid) and spent elsewhere.

That money is no longer circulating in our local economy and the result is stark.

What happened in your region?  How did you mitigate the impact of DIDOs?

If you are a DIDO, what would it take for you to live where you work?

What’s worse – a FIFO or a DIDO?

Is it just me or are things pretty stagnant at the moment?  I can’t help but feel we still struggle to hold our towns together, under the weight of so many pressures that ultimately fall onto the shoulders of a shrinking pool of individuals – as is the case in rural and regional communities.

The tension is mounting.  Do you get a sense that we are the poor buggers that have been left to carry it all on?  People are getting tired, worn out and penniless.

I have a theory.  It’s about micro economics and its importance in bolstering regional communities.  You could call it grass-roots economics.

Economically we’ve lost our mojo.  Let me explain.

Everyone has heard of the FIFO – fly in fly out workers.

I’ve invented a new one.  The DIDO – drive in drive out workers.

DIDO’s draw vast amounts of money out of regional communities; money that leaves the region to be spent elsewhere.

Arguably, there is several million dollars that no longer circulates in our community.

The slow creeping effect of money leaving our communities with DIDOs has been devastating.

It’s easy to see how this region was uniquely positioned to be directly influenced by the inevitable DIDO phenomenon.

We needed an economic strategy to mitigate the impact.
But what if those leading the economic strategy for a region are DIDOs themselves?  Will they see what hurts those left behind in small communities?

Not an easy subject to tackle; but I think it’s important we all understand the dynamics influencing our region, as it has a direct bearing on how well we plan our economic future.

A challenge for the new councillors and one they should be allowed to sink their teeth into.

BTW - Please do not go out and round-up all the DIDOs into the triangle with burning torches.  We are all guilty of by-passing local business now and then.