What does locally grown food have to do with musician Jack Johnson?

I live in Canada but am currently on sabbatical in Australia. This morning I had the luxurious experience of picking mandarin oranges from our backyard garden. The backyard! After tasting the amazing sweetness of this homegrown fruit, there is no way I can go back to buying those wooden boxes of flavourless mandarins we see in grocery stores back home.


I realize this isn’t a mandarin orange – it’s a lemon…but I didn’t take a photo of the mandarin I ate this morning.

Over the past few decades we have seen a resurgence in eating locally grown food. Farmers markets are flourishing, community supported agriculture is growing, creative vegetable gardens are popping up in unlikely places from rooftops to old bathtubs to city parks.  And while all of this is great – the fact of the matter is that the majority of North Americans (and Australians, for that matter) still buy most of their food from large grocery store chains which source their products globally.

So, how do we make this shift to encourage mainstream consumers to get on the locally grown food bandwagon?


An important, but often overlooked step in developing messaging and social marketing strategies for these types of behaviour change is doing some background research to figure out: 1) what your target market is finding challenging about the behaviour, and   2) what they see as the benefits of the behaviour. After this has been established, you will know what needs to change before they are likely to adopt the behaviour.

This is where Jack Johnson comes into the picture.


Since 2008 Jack Johnson and his team have been applying the principles of Community-based Social Marketing (CBSM) to his All At Once campaign at both his concerts and through his website. Currently All At Once is focusing on two behaviour changes: 1) buying locally grown food and, 2) using refillable water bottles.refilling bottle_JJconcert TO

While Jack lives and breathes these sustainability principles on his tour – such as setting up refillable water stations at all of his concerts and requesting venues to provide locally grown food, his team also tries to encourage fans to learn more about the impact of these behaviours by selecting local environmental non-profit organizations to set up a booth at each of his concerts.

Last year our research team at the University of Waterloo partnered with Jack’s team to see how we could make this great social marketing campaign even better. After going through his campaign strategy we learned that the All At Once team hadn’t been able to do barrier and benefit research on their selected behaviours before launching the campaign. So, we thought a good next step would be actually be to go back to the beginning by doing some baseline research in order to figure out what Jack’s fans were finding challenging about eating locally grown food.

Fromheretonowtoyou_coverWith some great support from Jack’s team we set off to follow him across North America on his 2014 tour From Here to Now to You and talk to his fans to get their views on buying locally grown food. Off we went to Saratoga Springs, Cleveland, Toronto, Vancouver, Quincy and San Diego where we asked over 800 fans what locally grown food meant to them, what they found challenging about buying locally grown food and what they see as the benefits.


Recruiting students to help conduct surveys at Jack’s concerts was surprisingly easy…much easier than for the study I did on leftover airline food waste.        Pictured here are students and alumni of the University of Waterloo’s environment & business program with Jack Johnson at his concert in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

So what did the research from our surveys reveal? The series of slides below provides an overview of our results.

Three-quarters of all respondents self-reported that they actively seek out locally grown food. It is important to keep in mind that this figure is for Jack Johnson fans – many of whom tend towards favouring more sustainable behaviours.   The biggest barrier identified by fans was cost of buying locally grown food. This barrier might in fact be a perceived barrier as opposed to an actual barrier as research as shown that some fruits and vegetables grown locally are actually priced lower or the same as their ‘imported’ equivalents. Interestingly, whether or not respondents self-declared that actively they buy local food, the barriers listed were quite similar. The two exceptions being [lack of] convenience and seasonality.


Of course being from Canada, we had to compare ourselves to our US counterparts. However, in this case there were minimal differences between Canadian and American fans. American found seasonality to be a bit less of a barrier, which makes sense given that the climate is generally warmer down there, and generally have a longer growing season (except if you live in Minnesota!). For fans under the age of 25, lack of variety was noted as a bigger barrier, where as fans in the 30-49 age group most often cited availability as the largest barrier. The 50+ age group was more focused on seasonality as being a barrier.


Slide22In terms of perceived benefits to buying locally grown food, by far the most consistently cited benefit was supporting the local economy. About 30% of respondents listed “pesticide free” or “health benefits” as the biggest benefit of locally grown food, demonstrating that there is some misunderstanding between the terms “locally grown food” and “organic food”. This was especially prominent as a response from younger fans. On the other end of the scale, for fans over the age of 60, the top-cited benefit was fresh taste. Maybe that’s because they remember the taste of fresh-picked fruits and vegetables from their youth (or they have travelled to Australia and tasted a mandarin orange from someone’s backyard).



Now that we have a better picture of the perceived barriers and benefits of our target market – in this case, Jack’s fans – we can rejig future versions of his All At Once campaign to focus on this information. For example, the environmental impacts of locally grown food was not a prominent perceived benefit of the fans we surveyed. While environmentalists tend to want to focus on motivations for sustainable behaviours on their environmental benefits, the research we did in this survey shows that an environmentally-focused message would not resonate as strongly with many of Jack’s fans.  Messaging for encouraging fans to actively buy locally grown food for the All At Once campaign should therefore focus instead on supporting the local economy. Messaging could also help to alleviate the misunderstanding amongst some fans on the difference between locally grown food and organic food. This could also relate to perceived extra costs (i.e. if some fans are interpreting locally grown food as organic food, they likely also equate it with higher costs – which is often not the case).

Being able to link these barriers and benefits to our desired behaviour change will help us use more directed tools for the strategic planning of a particular campaign or program.

Want to learn more about this initiative?

For more information on our partnership with Jack Johnson check out this article and video.

You can also read about Jack’s campaign on his website

Check out this journal article for more details on ways to benchmark community-based social marketing.


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