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Shifting consumer trends require a more open dialogue

Attractive mixed race woman reading label of food item at supermarket

Baby boomers have long dominated the retail marketplace — and they’ve been loyal meat customers.

But that dynamic is shifting as millennial and younger shoppers, who are less committed to meat as their go-to protein, are starting to outnumber boomers.

“Today’s shoppers are not as close to meat; they don’t know much about it or understand the health properties of it,” Anne-Marie Roerink, principal for 210 Analytics in San Antonio, Texas, told Pig Health Today. “They’re starting to integrate some plant proteins and focusing on very limited cuts of meat.”

Part of that shift is because they aren’t comfortable cooking certain cuts. For pork, some of those “harder-to-cook” cuts include roasts and ribs. “Consumers across the US are only buying fresh pork seven times a year,” Roerink noted. “But they’re in stores 70 times a year; so only one in 10 trips to the store includes a fresh pork purchase.”

Of course, pork wins the day on the processed meat side, accounting for 80% of pork sales, with bacon, sausage and ham remaining extremely popular.

Still, the author of the Power of Meat study, said that the pork sector has an opportunity to pull people back to embracing cuts that aren’t really that hard to cook. “And to getting them not to overcook pork,” she added.

New priorities

The numerous claims on product labels today are not just baffling to pork producers. Roerink admitted the degree to which transparency claims such as ingredient sourcing, the production process or whether people are paid fairly are surprising her has well. “It is driving growth across all categories in the store,” she said.

“But we have to be a little careful, because it’s a lot easier to see enormous growth when you have a small base.”

Organic is a prime example, with its double-digit growth for many years. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that everyone wants to buy organic, but price still drives most shoppers. Roerink agrees that there is growing interest in animal welfare and animals raised without antibiotics. However, she’s quick to add that there is a big difference between interest level and actual purchases.

The term antibiotic-free, for example, poses a particular challenge for all meat sectors due to the high level of confusion. “If you look at it from a consumer standpoint, who knows nothing about meat, they believe antibiotic-free means the animal never had antibiotics,” Roerink said.

In reality, because of veterinary supervision, strict government regulations, required medication-withdrawal times and USDA/Food Safety Inspection Service  testing, all meat needs to be free of antibiotics by government standards by the time it enters the retail sector.

Open dialogue

Lack of understanding is real between consumers, producers and veterinarians. “It’s amazing how shoppers want technology in every part of their lives, but when it comes to our food they suddenly start rejecting technology,” Roerink noted. “Part of that is because they don’t understand it.”

Point-of-purchase pork promotions and in-store information have gotten better, but she points out that you only have about 5 seconds to reach a consumer on-site, and only a very few do research. Anti-meat activists have done a good job using social media to send their messages.

“We have to do a much better job to counteract that and to tell the story — why it’s better for the animal,” she added. “Consumers love farmers; they want to hear from farmers. It’s really up to us as an industry to bring forward the positive attributes and talk about them.”

That means producers creating a website, talking about family and the farm, what you do and why, how much you care. She also believes that there’s strength in numbers; that the meat industry — pork, beef, chicken — should not compete but rather come together to provide clarity to consumers.

Pig Health Today, 6 February 2019

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