Social Media: Good or Evil?

Social media is a fantastic tool for communication. Whether it’s for contacting  a long-distance friend or sharing photos of a newborn family member, social media avenues make connecting as easy as snapping your fingers. Social media also makes it easier to spread ideas, messages, facts, and opinions. A perfect example of this is the translucent French flag overlay for Facebook profile pictures and this trend’s dramatic spread this week. The purpose is to show support for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Another example is a Facebook page called Project Team Jonny for a young boy close to my hometown battling cancer. The purpose of the page is to give updates and for people to show support to the family. What’s miraculous to me is the two-year-old page has over 46,000 “likes” or people connected. The town that Jonny is from, Jerseyville, barely has a population of over 8,000, but the power of his story reaches almost six times that. Social media proves the power of an idea or a feeling is immeasurable.

Thinking about my previous examples, it’s hard to argue that using social media for purposes like those is bad. However, as I scroll through my Facebook news feed, I see the following photo.

bad

To the average person on social media, this photo evokes a pretty strong set of emotions; anger, guilt, horror, etc. The graphic uses dark colors, and the thought-provoking idea of humans killing each other. Some people may even reevaluate their diet. With just a click, this photo can be shared to hundreds of a person’s followers and so on until the photo has reached millions of people within a day. So what’s the harm in that? After seeing this picture, a couple of questions came to mind for me: What’s the original source of this photo? Is it a graphic made by a child, a student, a mother? Where’s the source? Surely people won’t believe a statistic not properly cited for credibility. What does the author mean by “animals?” Humans are technically animals so is that factored into this statistic? Is this exclusive to strictly non-human animals used for food production or does it include euthanized animals, hunted animals, and animals accidentally killed by cars/other methods? Did the author consider the health benefits/harms of a meat-free diet?

Later in the course of my Facebook surfing a found a second graphic.

chicken

This second picture conveys a completely different message. It conveys a normal looking broiler chicken and it presents a message in a normal, non-threatening or emotion-evoking manner. A source is provided along with a logo for an association so that consumers can direct their questions to the source. The information itself is linked to the Oxford Journals, which are a reputable source with peer-reviewed articles.

Sadly, more often than not, during my Facebook surfing I see examples of the first graphic. On a daily basis, negative opinions of agriculture spread like wildfire through the avenue of social media. Non-credible statistics and unreliable information are shared and spread until they reach millions of people susceptible to believing this information. So, in the grand scheme of things, is social media beneficial to the agriculture industry? Or even news as a whole? With this being said, it is crucial to have skepticism and critical thinking when looking at things shared on the Internet. Positive communication is key in our industry to educate the consumers on our practices and the reasons why we use those practices.

From Orange & Blue to Dot Blue, my summer as a Dot Foods Intern

Since I was a young kid in grade school, I would always embark on adventures with friends and family to the little town of Mt. Sterling Illinois. I was fascinated with the sea of blue trucks and the monstrosity that is the corporate headquarters of Dot Foods, Inc. Our main reason for these journeys was to shop at the Country Store, a store that sells damaged goods at a reduced price to minimize loss for Dot. Now, it gives me a great sense of pride to have been one of the 28 interns for Dot Foods/Dot Transportation Inc. for the summer of 2015.

Headquarters in Mt. Sterling, IL. This photo was taken on my last day.

Headquarters in Mt. Sterling, IL. This photo was taken on my last day.

Dot Foods/Dot Transportation has always fascinated me as a business model. The company is so complex that it would take years to learn every facet. Dot is the nation’s leader in food redistribution.

IMG_2567(1)

Sidewalk design on the sidewalk at the entryway of the headquarters. This photo was taken on my very first day.

But, what is redistribution? Redistribution is adding another step, or “filter” to the logistics chain. Dot buys from the manufacturer and sells to over 3,600 distributors across the nation with company owned trucks. By consolidating over 100,000 different products to one location, redistribution addresses problems in the logistic chain such as limited inventory space for distribution centers, manufacturers wanting LTL (less than truckload) orders, not wanting a product to sit in the warehouse for long periods, and many more. Dot provides a solution to all of these problems while also providing their customers with the broadest product offering, improved service, consistent pricing, and considerably reduced lead (delivery) times.

Dot has 9 distribution centers located across the nation. (www.dotfoods.com)

Dot has 9 distribution centers located across the nation. (www.dotfoods.com)

In the 60’s, Robert and Dorothy Tracy began Dot by selling various dairy products out of a station wagon and two rented trucks. Robert has since past, but Dorothy still lives in the house next to my summer office.

(www.dotfoods.com)

(www.dotfoods.com)

A new Country Store was built in their honor and named Dorothy’s Market. Dorothy’s Market is known for miles around for its great prices and friendly staff.

www.dotfoods.com

(www.dotfoods.com)

Located right next door is the company’s restaurant, Hagel 1891, a fine dine restaurant for the Mt. Sterling community.

www.twitter.com/hagel1891

Dot employees from across the nation love visiting Hagel on business trips. (www.twitter.com/hagel1891)

The company also sponsors a local YMCA for the community right next to the corporate office. The headquarter location here in Mt. Sterling consists 2.5 million square feet of space in four different temperature and humidity regulated warehouses; dry, refrigerated, the cooler (-10 degrees Fahrenheit), and a warehouse called 4th temperature for various candies. This makes for the biggest redistribution facility in the nation.

www.dotfoods.com

(www.dotfoods.com)

Dot also has offices above Dorothy’s Market and Hagel 1891 and has a separate location for sales and training that we liked to call Dot West, my home for the summer.

Inside this building are two John Wood Community College classrooms for employees to take various classes.

Inside this building are two John Wood Community College classrooms for employees to take various classes.

Dot has so many different divisions such as Retail (who deal with convenience stores and gas station distributors), Foodservice (distributors to hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc.), National Accounts (distributors to food chains) and so many more.

www.project1999.com

(www.project1999.com)

My position this summer was the Protein Customer Development Intern in the Sales Department of Dot Foods. The Protein Division was quite different than the other departments in that we deal with commodities, causing a large amount of risk in buying and selling. Protein is relatively new and presents a new avenue for the company that I hope to see grow in the future. I reported to both the buyer and the sales team so I learned all avenues of the business. The buyer focuses on profit margin while the sales team focuses on selling the most product. Protein is a small division consisting of one buyer, one inside sales rep, and two outside sales reps. My main mentor was one of the inside sales reps. Over the summer, I was introduced to watching the market for the buyer, dealing with customers in the ordering process, and any other tasks that may be needed. For example, on Mondays I sat in on a market call with the protein team to discuss any significant changes in the market for live cattle, beef cuts, live hogs, pork cuts, and seafood. Throughout the week, I sent the buyer the daily market close on certain pork cuts so that he could determine what prices he wanted to set for our products, what product to stock up on, and what products to set good deals on. The main reason I loved my internship so much was because I was given so much freedom to learn. I made my own sales calls, answered customer inquiries, and even made a few sales of my own!

mybarnyardview.blogspot.com

(mybarnyardview.blogspot.com)

Since my division was so small, there was always a ton of work to be done, and I was more than happy to help alleviate that. I feel like being in this department was the best fit for my educational goals and my personality. The atmosphere and the customers are laid back and lighthearted which made making various calls more enjoyable. I learned about market trends and meat cuts but also how to manage multiple projects at a time, how to problem solve when customers have various problems, all while learning about the culture of Dot and the values that the company stands for.

www.dotfoods.com

On the side of most company trucks you will see the motto, “Trusted values, innovative solutions, shared growth.” (www.dotfoods.com)

In three short months company gave me so much. I’ve shadowed multiple different divisions, sat in on various meetings about topics that spread from saving for retirement to the transport and dispatch divisions. Dot welcomed the interns with open arms. My summer was not “all work and no play,” the interns attended a baseball game as a group, attended a networking event with our managers, and even completed a high ropes course.

www.wiu.edu

Western Illinois University Horn Field Campus’s high ropes course. This course is to be completed at about 30 feet in the air. (www.wiu.edu)

At the end of the summer, each intern is required to present something to a select audience typically including their bosses, supervisors, coworkers, etc. My goal was to pitch a plan to make an improvement to the Protein department. My presentation was a major success as it lasted over an hour and led to some wonderful discussion, ideas, and even productive changes.

I love the information I learn from my coursework in college, but nothing will compare to the experiences I took away from my summer internship. I walked out of those blue buildings with a new understanding of not only sales and working with commodities, but also how to deal with corporate culture, dealing with difficult conversations, deadlines, and goals. Dot Foods left a lasting impact on me, and I hope to have left a lasting impact on such a wonderful company.

dot-truck-front

(drivefordot.com)

I Spy: Grocery Store Edition

As a college student on a budget, when I go to the grocery store I have two missions: buy something to eat and try to make my bill as small as possible. When you truly scrutinize the products you are buying, their packaging, the nutrition facts, and the marketing strategies used, it’s actually very, well, shocking.

So, last week on my trip to the grocery store I actually documented some of the items that stood out to me, and my trip turned into an “I Spy a Marketing Ploy” game. Here’s what I found:

IMG_2637

A recent consumer trend hitting the market is the gluten-free craze. But, what is gluten? Gluten is the “glue” that holds certain food together. It is a naturally occurring protein commonly found in grain products like wheat. That’s why on second glance this packaging claim is horribly ironic because gluten is not naturally found in eggs, so of course they are gluten-free!

IMG_2682 IMG_2686

I found it interesting to compare these two products – cheese and stuff that claims to be cheese. Upon further investigation I found that there is actually a greater amount of artificial coloring than actual cheese. Another thing to note is that the cheese ingredients are cheese cultures, which are the beginning stage in the cheese making process.

IMG_2681

Upon first glance, this shelf looks like heaven. When you stop to think about it, however, would your great grandma recognize these products? Or would she confuse them for astronaut food?

IMG_2665

Marketing Ploy #3: Fat-free cake frosting. Great, this product is fat-free! Sadly, it’s still terrible for you.

IMG_2664

Introducing Bailey’s guilty pleasure: Ghiradelli brownies. You have to admit to the one product at the store that just make you stop and stare longingly. I mean, just looking at that picture gives you a craving.

IMG_2658

It’s interesting to stop and think about how every store tailors to its customer-base. Take this product from Japan for example. I live on a very diverse campus. I couldn’t tell you what this is nor could anyone in my hometown but there must be a demand for it on my campus.

IMG_2642

Honestly, is this not the cutest packaging you have ever seen? Way to go, Pom, you get five stars from me.

IMG_2689 IMG_2690

Veggie Straws sound too good to be true. How could chips made out of vegetables taste so good? Sorry to be the barer of bad news but these “healthy” snacks are just another marketing ploy. After taking a look at the nutrition facts, there’s not much difference to regular potato chips. Veggie Straws have 7g of trans fats as compared to regular chips like Lay’s Classic for example, which have 10g. As far as sodium goes, Veggie Straws have 200mg compared to Lay’s, which contains 170mg. Veggie Straws even have more carbs than Lay’s and only save you 20 calories. Honestly, the closest to “vegetable” that these chips get is the small amount of vegetable powder they contain.

IMG_2673

These Spongebob themed gummies are marketing at its finest. Though these snacks are targeted to children, I will admit that this 21 year old would gladly buy them.

IMG_2632

As a consumer with an education in agriculture, I chuckled at the placement of these two egg cartons. When you look at the comparison in pricing of organic versus conventional, it’s pretty clear that when consumers chose to go organic, they choose to go broke. Extensive research has been conducted on organic versus conventional and no differences have been found in nutritional value, contamination risk, or antibiotic existence (minimal antibiotics are used in laying hens conventionally.)

So, what’s the takeaway? Pay attention to pesky marketing on product packaging and remember to read between the lines of the “healthy,” “organic,” and other claims that are used to catch your eye.

Out of my Comfort Zone and into the Industry

My education has always given me a foundation to develop personally and professionally but last week I was granted the opportunity to use the knowledge I have learned through my coursework and apply it in the industry. Five students from across the nation were selected to receive sponsorship to attend the KC Animal Health Homecoming Dinner and Investment Forum.

Displaying IMG_2607.JPG

Monday morning I packed my bags and left at the crack of dawn for to the heart of the animal health industry, Kansas City.

Displaying IMG_2601.JPG

Kansas City is the hub of the largest concentration of companies in animal health allowing companies and organizations to network, advocate, maximize research findings, and assist each other in the success of the industry. With more than 300 companies, the Corridor represents 56% of the worldwide sales of animal health, diagnostics, and pet food products. Companies within the Corridor span from worldwide companies like Cargill, Merck, or Bayer Animal Health to small start- up companies to educational institutes and Veterinary Medicine schools.

For ten years, the KC Animal Health Corridor has hosted an annual gathering of CEOs, upper-level management, and leaders within the industry. The two-day gathering consists of an industry overview on Monday afternoon presenting the year’s successes, hurdles, and innovations followed by the Homecoming Dinner that evening and the Investment Forum the following morning.

Throughout the event, I met some exceptional people. Keynote speakers at the dinner included Ian Spinks, President and General Manager of Bayer HealthCare LLC and Chair of the KC Animal Health Corridor, Bob Marcusse, President and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, Dr. Ralph Richardson, Interim Dean and CEO of the K-State Olathe campus and 2015 Iron Paw Award Recipient, and Dayton Moore, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Kansas City Royals. I had many opportunities to network and met upper level management for Boehringer Ingelheim, One Medicine Consulting, Merck Animal Health, the CEO of Ceva Animal Health, the President of Agriculture Future of America, and Kim Young, President of the Animal Health Corridor.

Displaying IMG_2610.JPG

Displaying IMG_2622.JPG

Dayton Moore, GM of the Kansas City Royals

Not only did I take away some great connections, but I also learned a TON about the animal health industry. Here’s a general overview of some of my takeaways:

The Animal Health Industry – show me some facts!

What does this industry consist of? Animal health is anything that keeps our companion animals and production animals healthy, including: vaccines, feed additives, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, etc.

What’s the scope in the U.S.? The U.S. animal health market netted about 24 million in 2014. Consumers spent 8.35 billion on animal health products, with 4 billion spent on small animals and the next highest amount on ruminant animals. The Americas hold the largest portion of global sales and account for nearly half the market.

What companies should I know about? The top company in the market right now is Zoetis, followed by Merck and Merial. Zoetis is known for their antibiotics and anti-infectives. Other top 10 companies include Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmetica, a company focusing on biologicals and special drugs such as pain and cardiac medicines, and Ceva, a company focusing on poultry and swine products, and reproductive hormones. Companies like these spent 600 million in innovation in the past year.

What are some issues/hurdles for animal health manufacturers? One of the issues for manufacturers is called “channel blurring,” or the shift from some of the major products from being sold at vet clinics to over the counter. Another hurdle is the market change to consumers being more curious about their food, meaning antibiotic use, welfare, and hormone use in their production animal products. Federal agencies have become more diligent with this increasing awareness and are becoming more and more vigilant on manufacturing compliance. Upon market entry, manufacturers should expect to spend twice the money and twice the time during the approval process. Believe it or not, 85% of products on the market have sales of less than one million and sales of over 100 million are very rare.

Investment Forum Takeaways – holy innovation!

The Investment Forum of the Corridor’s event allowed start-up companies and existing companies to showcase their innovation proving that the future of research and development is bright! Some of the new products and ideas that interested me include:
• Antibiotic alternatives
• A device that monitors PH levels in the rumen and communicates it to devices to monitor harmful effects of acidosis.
• Cancer immunotherapy
• Arthritis treatment
• DNA detection platforms

Displaying IMG_2624.JPG

Find any of this information interesting? Learn more at:
kcanimalhealth.thinkkc.com

Another great resource to find out more about the animal health industry: ahi.org

How did I get this opportunity? This spring I attended the Agriculture Future of America: Animal Institute in Kansas City, a conference that provides insight into the animal industry through networking and industry tours. AFA is a wonderful organization that supports college students by preparing them for a career in the agriculture and food industry. AFA tailors to all agriculture students’ interests with institutes in crop science, leadership, public policy, and opportunities such as scholarships and internships. Learn more at agfuture.org!