October 2015 – January 2016 (3 months)
Going to the field. Literally.
Sustainability is a hot topic these days. PepsiCo—which manages a worldwide network of food growers and suppliers who produce corn, potatoes, soybeans, and more for snack and beverage products—called in projekt202 to bring our discovery & generative research methodology to bear on this issue. Sustainable farming practices are not only a growing expectation from customers, but also just good business.
PepsiCo had begun to create a program to encourage sustainable farming practices from all its growers, and were looking for ways to improve. My research partner Kelly and I traveled to farms in Texas, Illinois, and Idaho to talk to farmers, assess how they felt about the current SFI (Sustainable Farming Initiative) program, and ride along with them for a portion of their daily work to learn more about their workday.
What we found is that though farmers were willing to take this very lengthy annual survey, it was a significant inconvenience. On the one hand, there was a genuine desire to remain in good standing with PepsiCo because the relationship was positive and profitable. On the other hand, the survey was being done in Excel, often went into excruciating detail, didn’t account for regional farming practices, and was sometimes too academic for a profession that is highly practical. Moreover, farmers—at least in the United States—have implemented sustainable farming practices for generations. Farms, though increasingly run as big businesses, still have a strong tie to families and the generations that came before. The land is the business. If it (and the surrounding environment) is not taken care of, the business fails.
This was a fascinating project. It was refreshing to get outside for a change and talk to “users” who are not really into software at all, and solving a problem that is more about communication than anything else.
Our recommendations included shortening the survey, moving it from Excel to a web application, allowing farmers to auto-fill many of their answers from the previous year, shorten their survey by having their industry certifications acknowledged, and recognize that farmers are already acting sustainably.