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Recent industry changes have caused farmers to re-evaluate their relationships with ag retailers. Canadian strategic marketing firm Blacksheep Strategy Inc. has released the first industrywide brand survey of its kind that measures how farmers perceive the brand strength of various Western Canadian agricultural retailers.

Blacksheep Strategy Inc., a Western Canadian strategic marketing consultancy, has completed a first-of-its-kind syndicated study regarding the impact of ag retailer consolidation on farmers' brand perceptions and purchase intentions. This study is the first to assess the impact of a dramatic shift in ownership across the Western Canadian ag retail landscape. Blacksheep spoke to more than 1,000 Canadian Prairie farmers about their views on the companies that sell seed, crop protection and fertilizer products.

The study probes deeply into factors that drive farmers' brand perceptions and evaluates individual retailers on these attributes. Some highlights of the research include:

  • The larger companies that tend to dominate the marketplace are not necessarily perceived to be superior on numerous attributes associated with ag retailers. In fact, locally owned and operated retailers, including cooperatives, enjoy stronger, more credible relationships with their customers, while large integrated players, including grain companies, are suffering from a lack of clear brand identity.

  • Cooperatives score high on "differentiation," being distinguished based on traits such as farmer/member control and dividends. At the same time, farmers' performance ratings of the two cooperative retail brands identified in the study are strikingly different.

  • Despite the trend toward consolidation, farmers still have multiple options for crop inputs. Less than 20 percent look only to one ag retailer, while almost half will compare three or more retailers.

  • Not surprisingly, factors such as good service, knowledge and good prices are important considerations for farmers. At the same time, no retailer has yet claimed a strong brand position on any of these attributes.

  • Retailers must offer more than products. The key driver of retailer choice is the ability to offer product-related knowledge and advice - 60 percent of farmers say it makes them much more likely to do business with a retailer. Farmer control of the retail organization is the next strongest motivator.

Heather Kaye is a staff writer at Issues Ink, a communications company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which publishes several agriculture magazines, including Germination and Manure Matters.

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