Sunday, December 26, 2010

Food is a different kettle of fish...

Apparently.  I have struggled to appreciate the visceral and frankly, often fallacy-riddled opinions so many of us hold about food. From the organic mythos to math-resistant "food-miles", there is a curious passion for what we put in our mouths that those of us in the actual production chain often dismiss at our peril.

Moreover, it seems to be international.
The poultry-centric controversy began late last week when Lotte Mart, one of South Korea's biggest retailers, began selling its fried chicken at a level that undercut the prevailing market price by more than 60 per cent.
South Korea's presidential secretary for political affairs bristled in a blog that, even on a crude calculation of raw materials and processing, Lotte Mart appeared to be losing about 1200 won every time it sold a serving of fried chicken from one of its 82 stores.
That was the cue for a verbal bombardment from Kyochon Chicken, Goob-ne Chicken and hundreds of small restaurants and shops across South Korea that make their living from fried chicken, who fear they would be thrust out of business. Their trade body, the Korea Franchise Association, quickly weighed in with a threat of legal action and allegations of “fried chicken dumping”.
At first, the public shared their rage and seemed ready to be worked up by the media into passionate defence of the little guy against rapacious giants such as Lotte. Then they smelt the chicken, realised they could feed their families for roughly the price of a bus ticket and joined the monstrous queues at branches of Lotte.
The controversy fed into South Korea's unease over how it should continue sculpting its economy now that it is up there among the largest in the world and an attractive model for emerging nations.
I wish I could come up with a Grand Unified Theory of Food Thought to help all of us understand how our minds process food issues differently.  I suspect it may be harder-wired than we suspect, as food has been on our minds a lot as a species.

Regardless, these anecdotes do suggest one important thing for producers and others in the food industry: Don't bet the (chicken) ranch on rational or even familiar economic behavior in the markets we serve. We will likely be sideswiped by unpredictable fads, preferences, and rejections despite our best efforts to comprehend our ultimate customers.

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