“You want to do what? With whom?” Those were some of the first questions asked when I suggested we host a farm and canning facility tour for a group of skeptical online influencers.
“What if they write something negative?” I acknowledged that possibility and explained that the influencers I had in mind are skeptical of canned foods (based largely on misinformation) but are also open-minded. This was an opportunity to introduce them to the people involved in growing and canning food — real people, not celebrity spokespersons. Inviting them to see for themselves how food gets from a farm to a steel can would help to dispel the myths. The concept was approved as part of a much broader engagement initiative to build trust in cans and can linings.
I’m grateful that our organization’s members are willing to think progressively. They reviewed consumer research showing that consumer engagement is a powerful step toward earning trust.
Those Aha Moments
The three-day Farm-to-Can Tour was filled with “aha” moments. Standing in a field of red, ripe tomatoes, the nine influencers were delighted, if not shocked, to discover how quickly the fresh produce would be canned.
“Today has been a very educational experience,” Kathy Hodson, blogger at A Mom’s Impression (amomsimpression.com), posted. “Did you know that these tomatoes will be in a can less than 12 hours after being picked? Isn’t that amazingly fresh?”
From the farm to the can to the dinner table, the group had the opportunity to experience the entire progression. Experiential learning provides a unique environment to demonstrate the attention to safety and quality that goes into producing and packaging food. For the food system, first-hand experiences are an immense opportunity to close the trust gap. Today’s consumers are genuinely interested in learning more about how their food is grown and packaged.
The influencers’ own words speak for themselves, such as this statement from Erika Bragdon, Living Well Mom (living
wellmom.com): “I’m blown away by the detailed process and the care that is taken in the whole process.”
The tour began by recruiting nine influencers who are moms writing about family, food and nutrition on their blogs. We developed an itinerary to immerse them in the canning process, so they could discover for themselves the value of can packaging. The tour began with dinner at a craft brewery where the group was treated to a private tour, learning about the beer canning process. The brewer decided that canning his beer would ensure the quality and taste better than any other packaging type, as aluminum cans lock out oxygen and light.
The next day, we visited a tomato farm where they were invited to walk through rows of tomato plants and talk to the farmers. Then it was on to a canning facility, where we followed the fresh-picked tomatoes through each step of the process.
The tour included a conversation with Registered Dietitian Shari Steinbach, who discussed the nutrition of canned foods. Afterward, the bloggers cooked and dined on a meal that incorporated canned foods into every dish.
Rewards of Canning at Harvest
In addition, we explained how the industry’s commitment to innovation is paying off when it comes to meeting consumer preferences. Years of extensive research by can manufacturers and can lining companies led to the next-generation of can linings. These new linings maximize performance as a strong barrier between the packaging and the food and do not contain Bisphenol A, also known as BPA.
More than 90 percent of all food cans produced today use these next-generation linings, which was an enlightening statistic for the influencers on the tour.
They were also amazed to learn that canned fruits and vegetables are canned within hours of harvest, locking in nutrients that would otherwise degrade over time in fresh foods that are shipped to market. As the bloggers followed a shipment of tomatoes from the farm through the canning facility, they saw how the rapid canning process locks in high-quality nutrients. The heat used in canning improves the availability of certain nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and proteins. They also saw the absolute commitment to safety and quality.
Blogger Maryea Flaherty (happyhealthymama.com) wrote, “Many people have preconceived notions about canned food, myself included. Getting a chance to see up close the care and love that goes into the canned food process and learn about the nutrition of canned food really opened my eyes.”
“I discovered that canned foods are equally nutritious and are a great source of fruits and vegetables. They are safe and shelf stable, and cans are environmentally friendly. In fact, steel food cans are 100 percent recyclable,” Katya Kurmayev wrote on her blog, littlebroken.com.
After the tour, the bloggers each wrote a post about their experiences and shared recipes using canned ingredients to introduce their readers to the benefits of canned foods. These included delicious dishes such as pumpkin chili, homemade SpaghettiOs and vegetable pot pie.
An array of consumer research tells us endorsements such as this, delivered by a “trusted source,” are incredibly powerful. With a combined audience of nearly 1.3 million exposed to the positive testimonials of all nine bloggers, the event was well worth the investment.
The tour is just one component of a broader consumer and stakeholder engagement initiative by the Can Manufacturers Institute on behalf of — with the participation of — our members. Other program pillars include an online presence and personal outreach to a broad array of stakeholders, including rational skeptics. A video of the Farm-to-Can Tour is available at refreshingly-real.com/farm-to-can-tour/.
The “Refreshingly Real” platform, another part of the initiative, uses humor to help moms celebrate motherhood and healthy eating. Real-world experiences showcase the advantages of canned food. While still in its youth, the site has an impressive engagement rate and rapidly growing reach. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels share easy solutions to meal preparation and entertaining, and information on the benefits of cans and next-generation linings.
Our engagement with consumers and other stakeholders in both cutting edge and traditional formats is helping to ensure an informed public dialogue about food and the food system. More importantly, there is no doubt in my mind that the open, honest dialogue we’ve begun is building trust. If your company or organization hasn’t joined the public dialogue in a meaningful way, I encourage you to do so. They say a rising tide lifts all boats — let’s get the water flowing.