Universities receive millions for organics research As part of its new “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded nearly $20 million in grants to universities to study organic farming in hopes that farmers develop new production and marketing tools.
What’s next: Universities across the country will be tackling ambitious organic-ag projects. The University of Maine, for example, will use its grant money to improve high-end organic wheat production. Iowa State University is studying organic cucurbit crops like melons and cucumbers, and Utah State University will be zeroing in on organic stone fruits.
What this means for retail: If these research projects pay off, you will have more—and possibly cheaper—access to organic products. But some shoppers won’t be satisfied with just a USDA Organic seal; they’ll want to know products’ back stories. After all, the “Know Your Farmer” campaign is all about connecting consumers with local food producers. Keep an eye on usda.gov/knowyourfarmer for organic-ag projects helping farmers in your area. You might find the perfect success story to highlight on your shelves.
Food-stamp numbers swell
According to a study published in the November 2009 archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, food stamps are on the rise—35.8 million Americans used the government assistance program in July 2009, up nearly 6.8 million from a year earlier. The same study found that half of all American children will live in homes that receive food stamps, also known as Electronic Benefit Transfers.
What’s next: More and more retailers are accepting EBT benefits, including all Target and BJ’s Wholesale Club stores. Costco, 7-Eleven and CVS stores are accepting food stamps in more retail locations as well.
What this means for retail: Since EBT cards work like debit cards, they’re discreet and don’t slow down checkout aisles. But many people who could benefit from the program either don’t know about it or don’t want to sign up. The USDA reports that only 67 percent of those entitled to food stamps obtain them. Help your customers learn the facts about EBT by downloading info at fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/ and displaying it in your store, as well as partnering with community- and faith-based programs working to fight hunger.
Bar codes become works of art
Design firm D-Barcode has been making waves in Japan with its custom bar code designs. There are a wide variety of shapes and graphics, from bar code–based castles to train tracks to city skylines.
What’s Next: Don’t be surprised when the trend crosses into the States. Bar codes consume valuable product real estate that would otherwise be used for catchy design work. And as an increasing number of cell phones come armed with shopper-savvy bar code scanners, consumers are paying more attention to those little black lines.
What this means for retail: Get ready to showcase the first products with bar code designs to hit U.S. shelves. While the bar codes might seem whimsical, they’re just the sort of quirky conversation starters that can help products stand out from the pack.