All farmers need to sell their produce and produce that is grown to the highest standards with the greatest care is always liable to cost more, and needs especially appreciative buyers. Enlightened Agriculture needs to be embedded within a correspondingly enlightened food culture – as discussed in section 7. Between the agriculture and the culture, and part of both, sits marketing.
In the West, especially in Britain and the US, and increasingly in the world as a whole, the supermarkets dominate the whole food chain: Wal-Mart in the US: Carrefour in France: Tesco in Britain.? Farmers and the processors are obliged to do what the supermarkets tell them. Because the supermarkets have such power, they cannot be ignored, or dismissed a priori. But it surely is a mistake to regard them as the only game in town, as if their dominance was inevitable. It surely is an even greater mistake to regard the deal with the supermarket as the ultimate goal, and as the sign of “arrival”, as many a small producer seems to have done.? At best, surely, the deal with the supermarket is a short-term expedient.
For the point of the modern supermarket, like any other business in the neoliberal economy, is to maximize returns to the shareholders. The most successful are the corporates, operating globally. They reduce costs by playing producers off against each other – always driving the hardest possible bargain; and they maximize income by subtle pricing and by broadening their range to increase the dependency of customers. It is not their task truly to care either for the producers or for their customers; their job and indeed their duty is to minimize their own costs and maximize their returns. To achieve economies of scale and standardize their products they need to buy in bulk, to a precise specification. They need industrial farmers, in short – the bigger the better. They can buy from small-scale producers only as a concession. But enlightened farms must be small-scale.
Common sense alone, then, plus a large body of experience, suggests that we need to create a whole new marketing chain, geared specifically both to Enlightened Agriculture and to the new food culture. To some extent this may require quite new approaches. But perhaps in the main we simply need to re-create the kind of distribution and retail chains that over the past 30 years have been systematically trashed, and to learn from other precedents. In general, the food chain clearly needs to be far shorter but also probably more diverse – re-incorporating the traditional trades, including the many arts of the butchers and bakers, that have been sucked into the supermarkets. Overall, the possibilities are endless but the problems are huge. For the College, marketing must be a key concern.