At Argyle, our passion for food runs deep. We love learning and telling stories about where our food comes from – its journey from producer to retailer to consumer; experiencing and travelling to new places to try new foods (long live the return of media tours!); helping companies launch and market their products; and, of course, the joys of eating!
Argyle’s Agribusiness and International Trade (AIT) team operates in this unique niche: we help agriculture, food and beverage companies reach and influence trade and consumer audiences — to grow their brands and businesses.
On June 30, Alison George will retire after 17 years leading our team and 32 years in communications. Her experience and passion for this industry – one that stemmed from a family of ag-industry pros and devoted cooks – helped shape the AIT team of today. Now, this unique specialty practice will transition to Pereina Choudhury – a senior communicator with extensive experience in the agri-food and trade space.
Argyle’s Kyra Marskell, an associate consultant on the AIT team and fellow foodie, sat down with both to gather tips and insights on the agribusiness, trade and food commodities industry.
KM: Alison, how did Argyle come to focus on this sector?
AG: The tipping point came in 2006, when Argyle earned the American Peanut Council’s Canadian mandate — one we proudly continue today. From there, the team learned the ins and outs of this industry quickly and dove head-first into its core work, focusing on U.S., Canadian and international consumer brands and commodity products.
KM: In your role as a communicator, what tips can you share about how to form relationships with consumers and commodity groups to attract trade?
AG: First, take the time to understand your audience and choose the most effective channels to reach them. If there’s no fundamental understanding of how your audience thinks, shops, and makes decisions, you’re never going to understand how to reach them. Our audiences have preferred channels they trust, and we need to be where they are.
Second, it’s all in the details. Homing in on details uncovered through consumer research can unveil so much more than continuously relying on the traditional “primary grocery shoppers, females, with kids,” audience ever could.
Third, keep things fresh. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a routine. Constantly explore and observe what’s working and what’s not.
KM: What market trends are most important for agri-business leaders to watch?
AG: With the pandemic disrupting life as we knew it, people are shopping for groceries in many ways – think e-commerce, curbside pick-up, grocery delivery. A change in these shopping channels means a change in how grocery items and food is marketed to consumers.
From a processor side, there’s an increased consolidation of retail in Canada. Clients need to view these trends to affect change in these spaces or leverage these consolidations to their advantage.
With climate change concerns, it’s important that our ag processor leaders are aware of how they’re making processes more efficient, safer, better, for ingredients and overall sustainability. What are you doing to be better – and how is this communicated to consumers?
KM: Pereina, what’s your experience in communications and PR, and how did you enter the food commodities and trade space?
PC: I started my career in PR at boutique agencies where I focused on real estate, financial services, CPG and food and beverage clients, learning to overcome challenges with fresh, creative thinking and storytelling.
During the past 13 years, I’ve specialized in developing integrated consumer, media and trade programs for a range of food and agriculture commodities, associations and boards in Canada and international markets. My approach is always rooted in educating stakeholders through engaging programs that help people make informed food choices.
KM: In your opinion, what role does communications play in the agribusiness space?
PC: Consumer education: Staying abreast of food and lifestyle trends and understanding how they impact our clients are key to creating relevant programs for clients. With a food commodity, the product rarely changes, yet consumers must continuously be educated about them and their benefits. That’s the challenge in the food and commodity space: developing and executing new and exciting campaigns with teams year-over-year for the exact same commodity. Simply put, we keep it fresh.
Stakeholder relations: On the consumer level, it’s important to not just educate, but engage consumers with key messages, strategic communications and exciting creative. For the trade, it goes beyond communicating directly with trade audiences; we aim to communicate with consumers in a way that benefits the trade.
KM: What is your vision for the next phase of Argyle’s Agribusiness and International Trade team?
PC: There are four keys:
- Elevating our own game and making each other better to positively impact the client work that we do.
- Continuously delivering outstanding work that we stand behind and be recognized for by our clients.
- Impacting positive change by helping consumers make informed food choices through education.
- Pushing the creative envelope, trying new things, and always striving to outperform what clients have done before.
KM: Where do you see the industry moving and where should clients take note?
PC: We’re living in a period where healthy eating is more prolific, especially with younger consumers. People are trying to make the right food choices on their own and we play a role in providing them with the right information. Sustainability, responsible farming, and growing practices are a few examples of industry issues we’re watching — and where we’re positioning our clients for success.
Seeking expert counsel in agri-business space? Contact Argyle’s AIT team.
About the Authors
Alison George is the senior vice president of Argyle’s Agribusiness and International Trade team and an expert in the field. Having embraced the food and retail sectors during her 31 years in communications; 16 of which have been with Argyle, she has developed a practice – and a team – that is unique in the industry.
Pereina Choudhury is the vice president of Argyle’s Agribusiness and International Trade team. For more than 20 years, Pereina has designed and led successful campaigns driving business results for a diverse roster of clients. With a background in CPG marketing, she specializes in food and agriculture, working for domestic and international associations, boards and businesses.
Kyra Marskell is an associate consultant on Argyle’s Agribusiness and International Trade team. She joined Argyle in 2019 and supports many of the team’s food commodity and trade accounts.