Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Starbucks Farmer's Market Salad FAIL

What do you think of when you think of a farmer's market? As I mentioned back in June, we asked people what they liked best about the farmer's market and here is my favorite answer:
The colors of all of the fruits and veggies mid summer. Also the incredible taste difference, the experience of shopping outside and chatting with the fabulous farmers that grow the food we put into our bodies! I love it when they give me a recipe suggestion.
When you think farmer's market, do you think corporate agribusiness? Obviously not, because the farmer's market is a local concept. So cut to me walking by this sign at my local Starbucks, where I love to get my corporate mochas and breakfast sandwiches:

A farmer's market salad? So I went in and asked the manager, "is the farmer's market salad from a farmer's market?" And she said "they made us put that on there." And I said, "but is it from a farmer's market?" And she said, "no, but it's delicious."

So I told her, see, I volunteer on a marketing committee for a farmer's market, and farmers work very hard to keep a living in the face of giant agribusiness and that I thought this was misleading. She kind of disappeared. But the barista told me I could call 1-800-Starbucks. Since I have nothing better to do, I did when I got home from work today.

I told 1-800-Starbucks that I thought the "farmer's market" nomer on the salad was misleading, since they are not supporting farmer's markets. And the guy on the other end of the line said he would pass that on to the marketing committee, and that his mom shops at farmer's markets. And I suggested that a number of the farmers in our farmer's market build relationships with restaurants and that Starbucks could reach out to local farmers. And the rep told me that would be hard for them since they are a large corporation, and I suggested to him that they shouldn't use the farmer's market language FOR THAT VERY REASON.

Underlying the marketing decision to use the words "farmer's market" is the understanding that the buy local movement has become powerful enough to influence marketing demographics. It is actually cutting into the profits of agribusiness. It can also mean extra profits for those who capitalize on it. See how Frito-Lay is trying to market itself as a purveyor of "local" potato chips and you'll see what I mean. See also the case of Hunt's tomatoes:
"The problem is there is absolutely no way we can have local produce within 100 miles of every person in America, so the question is how do we take it to that next level," said Phil Lempert, a grocery industry analyst known as the Supermarket Guru who ConAgra recently hired to work on its Hunt's tomatoes promotion.
I imagine someone in marketing at Starbucks wanted to "take it to that next level" and said, "well, technically it's true. We did buy the vegetables from farmers at a market."

I shop at Starbucks. They are a more ethical company than most, were one of the first corporations to address climate change in their operations, and their bottled water supports poor kids without access to clean water, but here's the thing: Starbucks, with the farmer's market salad, is trying to capitalize on the buy local movement in a disingenuous way that rides on its own carefully crafted image without having to deliver on it, and it ought to drop it. Way to take it to that next level. Starbucks FAIL.

Oh, and I hear the movie Food Inc. is awesome.


P.S. It's day four of the buy local challenge. Today I ate a local peach and an apricot.


Tim said...

Nice job! Purveyors should advertise their products for what they are, not what they think they can get away with. My dear departed Dad was a retail marketing wizard who was also a fan of both Starbucks & farmers markets. I am pretty certain that I know what Dad would have called Starbucks "Farmers Market Salad" -- he would have called it a lie!

Chelsea said...

Way to go! That kind of deception really gets me. Just how much research do we have to do before we buy? Shouldn't our labels be honest? Grrrrr.

I haven't noticed if Food, Inc. is playing in Frederick, but it's currently at the Shepherdstown Opera House just over the river - playing this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

sixgables said...

And Monday! It's showing Monday at 5.