Dr. Sophie Ano

Thinking Like a Consumer

Growing up in France, Dr. Sophie Ano’s (formerly Dr. Winter) earliest experiences with food systems differ drastically from the ones she researches in the U.S. Characterized by outdoor markets, and acclaimed for its artisanal products, French food culture resembles a system of trade many Americans only experience at farmers’ markets.

“The culture is very much ‘I have some jam, I will give it to you for some meat,’” explains Dr. Ano. “Here, there is deeper exploration of the consumer, and why people buy what they buy.”

Today, Dr. Ano’s expertise spans what she calls “the end of the food chain.” By studying consumer habits to understand how factors from personality-type to product traceability influence buyers’ preference, Dr. Ano’s research extends into marketing, yielding valuable information for her client base.

Some of those clients market their products at SUNY Cobleskill. According to Dr. Ano, these producers often face the same challenge in expanding: moving from family-run to employees on the payroll. Growing businesses must limit production volume so as to not over-produce, while maximizing profitability.

Managing the supply chain is a start. Some businesses benefit from external help. Others sustain an in-house operation. Some products are inherently appealing to consumers; apples, says Dr. Ano, are easy to market because of how frequently new varieties hit the market. Other products and the businesses creating them rely on “wow” factors, like new flavors or styles.

The same business practices she utilizes with clients are the ones Dr. Ano uses in the courses she teaches. Students in an entrepreneurship class create business plans to market products, where students in a sales class develop companies to sell items that are available through “Schoharie Fresh” Online Farmers’ Market.

Outside the classroom, Dr. Ano leads SUNY Cobleskill’s National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) team, the only chapter in New York state. Students compete in an annual competition, trying to sway judges on a product they have created and branded. At 2018’s competition in Kansas City, SUNY Cobleskill’s team presented a baked algae crisp which they named “Altitude.”

“The goal of the competition is to market a product to solve a problem in agriculture,” says Dr. Ano. At SUNY Cobleskill, she fulfills the same goal.

Feature photo: Dr. Sophie Ano is helping guide the Carriage House Café and General Store through its first year in business.