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Pig wings and chicken trotters? Know your stuff to win customers

The Freedom Food campaign aims to ensure consumers hold farmers to high standards when it comes to animal welfare. There’s a valuable lesson for small businesses here – in the food industry and elsewhere.

On the back of the horsemeat scandal - which continues to throw up new stories on an almost daily basis - you'd have thought people would be keeping a closer eye on their mealtime choices. But it turns out not everyone is fully aware of what goes in to the tasty treats they've been trying.

As a survey conducted by RSPCA-backed Freedom Food found, one in ten respondents believe they've sampled chicken trotters in the past, while 8% reckon they've nibbled on pig wings. Yep, it appears some interesting souls believe that pigs can actually fly.

But fortunately that's only a sub-plot here, as the whole idea behind the study was to determine just how interested consumers are in the origins of their food - and, more specifically, how much emphasis farmers are placing on animal welfare when raising their produce.

Freedom Food's ultimate goal is to ensure that the general public demands high standards when it comes to farming practices, working on the belief that if shoppers choose responsibly-sourced products then farmers will pay more attention to the way they handle their livestock. It's one of those self-fulfilling, circular-style processes - and it could well work.

Horses for courses

The odd quirky query or two will inevitably pop up from time to time, and if you've got the answers that's half the battle won. It pays to invest time in understanding what you're selling

Richard Haddock, the manager of a large farm and shop in South Devon, told the Western Morning News that customers are increasingly asking about food following the horsemeat controversy - and have displayed what we're going to diplomatically call an endearing lack of knowledge when doing so.

"We get lots of weird questions from people coming into the shop," he explained. "People ask where lamb comes from and you get really surprised looks when you say it is young sheep."

Yet despite the apparent absurdity of such questions, Richard added that it's important farmers are in a position where they can answer customers' queries appropriately.

"One of the big things that a farmer has to do in a farm shop is answer what might seem silly questions to them, but they're not. It is just the fault of a lack of education about where food comes from," he said.

The point is a valuable one for all small businesses to take note of - the odd quirky query or two will inevitably pop up from time to time, and if you've got the answers that's half the battle won. It pays to invest time in understanding what you're selling.

A game of give and take

When it comes down to it, people are more inclined to buy from retailers they trust. Whether that's a butcher who can answer any question about beef or an electrical supplier with a definitive knowledge of cabling, businesses that are engaged with their products are more likely to get a positive response from customers.

Essentially it's all about passion - if you can convince the public that you're proud of your business and the goods you sell, you have a much better chance of ensuring customers believe in your brand and your ability to deliver what they expect.

And once you've won them over, the next thing is to keep your promises. Business is about the bigger, long-term picture, so there is little point in stretching the truth for the sake of quick profits.

Image credit: Henry Burrows