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Future proofing brand through connecting grower to consumer

As a kid, I remember the summers when my mom would drive us down a dusty country road to stop at her favourite roadside stand to buy a dozen ears of sweet corn. The name of the sweet corn was Bread & Butter and the farm was the Griswold Farm. The farmer always gave you a baker’s dozen, which of course is 13. I was told that the extra ear was just in case. Just in case, at that young age, I assumed was the just in case one had a worm in it, or just in case the kernels were too small. We called those duds. I also wondered if bakers were bad at counting and didn’t know 13 was a bad luck number. Either way farmers used the term and were apparently not superstitious. And, the just in case, I now realize was really for ensuring customer satisfaction and retention. Pretty clever, those famers protecting their reputations. That sweet corn, was boiled to perfection, lightly salted and buttered, then systematically devoured, leaving our teeth filled with fleshy kernel bits.

In the autumn, we would travel backroads to Virgil, New York to Hollenbeck’s Apple Orchard. It was an old cider mill where they produced freshly squeezed apple cider (not the alcoholic cider that many enjoy). We would watch the workers stack shallow bins of apples into a massive tower. Then they would move the crusher in, which resembled a medieval torture device, and put the squeeze on those apples until they turned to nothing but mash. Mesmerised, we would eagerly watch the juices travel through clear tubes into a collecting chamber, then quickly dispersed in gallons or half gallon containers by the person at the end of the production line holding nothing more than a hose. After, we would walk by the bins of apples with labels that read McIntosh, Gala, Empire, Cortland, Crispin, and fill a sack with freshly picked apples. We would always be munching on an apple as my mom and dad would stop and talk with one of more of the Hollenbeck family members.

We knew the farmers and their families. We knew their products. We felt like we were given special treatment, when in reality everyone received the same. There were no regulations for a roadside stand, and probably very little for fresh squeezed apple cider from the farm. We rarely ate corn that wasn’t picked from the Griswold, or apples from the Hollenbeck farms. We trusted them and wanted to support them. They didn’t intentionally create a brand, but cared about connections.

I believe the human experience is and always has been connected to food. What we eat, where we eat it, who we eat it with, goes beyond the food. The experience is enhanced when you know who grew and harvested it. You have an even greater appreciation for that product when you know the effort and care that it took to get it into your table. That is my definition of “premium”.

I don’t know the farmer who grew and harvested the last apple I ate. I don’t know the family. I don’t know the location where the last ear of corn ate came from. I have lost my connection and unfortunately I have no story to tell other than it is just an apple and just an ear of corn.

However, I have hope. After speaking with several companies in the Bay of Plenty involved in plant-based food production I hear that there is a desire to help consumers make better connections and to know the stories of the fruit and honey they are buying. As companies attempt to position their products as premium and compete against other companies trying to capture that top spot, that “story” is becoming increasingly important as part of the brand strategy. The story is a differentiator, but it also can be a validator. Nothing is more risky to brand reputation than not being able to validate that the best practices companies preach as brand gospel are being followed. Without validation, they have little evidence to create the trust needed that entitles them to claim premium brand. Consumers will trust, but in this digital world, they will expect and demand traceability and transparency. Companies have invested significant amount of money in creating a brand, which will require continued investment to protect it.

At Cucumber, we think a lot about traceability and transparency and how they play a role throughout the food system value chain, and how design and technology can be best employed to create trust and provide validation. Our thinking goes beyond Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology. It includes how best to enhance and capture the decision-making process as part of the product’s “fingerprint”. We think about how to use that data to continue to improve and protect a brand, and how best to share that with consumers and partners in an easy and intuitive way to build and retain trust.

We believe that the food system is part of the Sharing Economy and our approach embraces that. Growers rarely grow food for themselves. They grow food in NZ and share it across the world. At Cucumber, we are simply creating new ways through technology to create an experience that replicates that feeling that consumers are getting their corn from the Griswold Farm, or their apples from Hollenbeck Apple Orchard. It’s story of taking something great from Bay of Plenty to create a digitally-connected World of Plenty. It’s a story of protecting the brands our customers have worked so hard to build to extend their legacy.