How the Movie "Food Inc." is Changing the Food Landscape

Foodinc I was chatting with Gary Angel from Rocky Ridge Ranch last night and he explained that his meat sales have skyrocketed this year. What took him 3 months to sell last year is being snatched up in 2 weeks - whole chickens, steaks, hamburger, bacon, pork, you name it it's selling.

Reflecting on possible causes for the uptick in sales he speculated that the movie "Food Inc." has something to do with it. He's heard a lot of people mention that seeing the movie has led them to seek out alternative sources of meat. I hadn't given it much thought, but I also have heard a chorus of people saying they saw the movie and it has sufficiently freaked them out to seek out non-industrial chicken and beef alternatives.

These are just anecdotal observations, but I do think that Food Inc. may be a game changer in popularizing local small scale beef and chicken, and that along with that we may be on the cusp of seeing ordinary grocery stores get on the band wagon.

The mainstreaming of organic produce is a good example of how this works. Along with mentioning that meat sales are way up, Gary said that their organic produce offerings don't sell like they did five years ago. Another farmer chimed in that organic produce is now available everywhere, "even Walmart has organic produce," he lamented. Organic produce was seen, until very recently, as a fringe food movement, but in the last five to ten years it has moved into the mainstream. You can argue about the effectiveness of organic standards that many say are not strict enough, but there is no doubt that organic produce has arrived.

I'm wondering if we might be on the cusp of a similar transition in what is available at local grocery stores in the meat department. There are currently some half-hearted efforts to provide locally raised beef in grocery stores, but as this recent KREM story highlights, the industry hasn't really made offering meat alternatives a priority because they haven't had to. But Food Inc. may be a game changer. Seeing graphic images of "beef product" soaking in ammonia tends to mess with your head in a way that makes it difficult to turn a blind eye to the source of your meat.

This Diffusion of Innovation chart shows the process of how change is innovated and adopted, with the blue line indicating when various percentages of the population adopt an innovation and the brown line indicating the market share of a product. The blue line is helpful in understanding the various food movements. For my purposes I'll ignore the brown line.

Diffusion of innovation I would put organic produce in the early majority stage of development, with organic produce available everywhere and a growing percentage of people making choices to buy organic. I think the movie Food Inc. signals the transition of local, naturally raised meat from the innovators stage to the early adopters and as the market responds to rising interest I think within the next couple of years smaller scale grass fed beef and more naturally raised chicken will find its way into grocery stores. I think the chorus for change in the meat industry may be reaching a critical mass that shifts markets and moves things like grass-fed beef into the mainstream.

Another way to look at the chart above is that industrial beef and chicken have ridden the wave of innovation over the last 60 years and now take up 100% of the market. What used to be a radical innovation is now the only way we do it. If I had a couple million dollars I sure wouldn't be investing it in a traditional CAFO. I'd be thinking about how to innovate a series of smaller scale, more local, more natural feed lots that have enough capacity to supply Costco. New innovations will rise up in response to the market and I'd want to be on the front end, not the back end of the innovation cycle.

These are just my anecdotal observations so take them for what they're worth.