Checkoff is virtually reaching a hungry at-home consumer audience
American Lamb Board actions during COVID-19
In a matter of days, the American lamb industry went from preparing for the most important time of year for consumption — Easter and Passover — to facing a potentially devastating crisis. On March 9, 2020, the American Lamb Board hosted a workshop in New York City with food editors and test kitchen staff of Bon Appetit Magazine and on March 10, 2020, participated at a national conference for caterers.
Just a couple days later, cities around the country announced closures, including restaurant shut-downs as part of measures to control the spread of COVID-19.
The lamb industry is now facing one of its toughest times in recent memory, and there is no shortage of concerns for our feeders, producers, suppliers and processors. With 50% of American Lamb sold into foodservice, ALB and lamb suppliers have had to quickly shift strategies and identify new programs that will provide meaningful opportunities to help our industry. We have seen some very innovative programs from companies who have shifted lost foodservice sales to direct-to-consumer lamb programs. We applaud these efforts.
While our critical restaurant partners continue to be in crisis, the good news is that retail sales are increasing, as expected. Retail sales data confirms what is being seen in grocery stores across the U.S. — sales of all fresh meats, including lamb, have surged as consumers stockpile. For the four-week period March 15 to April 5, 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, fresh lamb volume sales at retail climbed 17% and Easter week sales of fresh lamb were strong with more than $19 million in sales across the U.S.
In the past few weeks, many consumers have bought lamb for the first time, which presents an opportunity to attract new customers and increase at home consumption of lamb. As more meals are being prepared at home, consumers will want a variety of protein choices and will be more interested in trying new recipes and products, like lamb.
Checkoff Programs Highlights During Covid-19:
ALB has connected with a fast-casual national restaurant chain about a joint summer promotion emphasizing American lamb.
A pilot retail dietician program is being explored with a leading supermarket.
A new social media campaign will be launched in May, challenging consumers to cook with lamb
Two new recipe booklets have been designed. One promotes the versatility of value cuts, like ground and shoulder, in comfort classic dishes that will be approachable for new lamb consumers. The other gives tips and recipes for creating restaurant quality meals at home with rack, loin chops, shanks and leg.
ALB reached out to its chef network to encourage lamb take-out programs during Easter and Passover and provided discounted pricing.
ALB coordinated lamb product donations to support restaurants who are serving meals to laid-off foodservice staff and frontline workers.
For the food media, bloggers and influencers, ALB shifted messaging to reflect the new reality of at-home cooking — including the importance of sourcing American and supporting local farmers and ranchers.
The ALB blogger and influencer network was recruited to help the industry by creating content to keep lamb part of spring holiday meals.
ALB has significantly increased its social media presence as people search for meal ideas and cooking information.
ALB is designing new virtual lamb educational experiences for influencers in key markets to replace planned face-to-face-events.
ALB is evaluating a new online meat focused education program for retailers and distributors.
In the midst of drastically changing consumer behavior at the grocery store, the Beef Checkoff has made changes to the messages and methods to deliver those messages.
On the extensive list of closures around the country are the events and conferences the Beef Checkoff were to play a role in as well as some research projects put on pause. According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, as messages are shifted to reach consumers differently, the market research and market intelligence staff members are watching retail and food service channels and the consumer response to Checkoff messaging.
Recipes, cooking videos and educational materials about beef nutrition are all being placed at the forefront to help consumers, many of whom are cooking far more meals at home under stay at home orders and remote working. Social media outlets are adding content including cooking lessons and highlighting Chuck Knows Beef, the digital assistant always available to answer beef questions. Chuck Knows Beef was one of the tools highlighted at the National Western Stock Show in the Colorado Beef Council booth.
In addition to consumers, food influencers — including food bloggers and social media cooking stars — are being supplied with resources and recipes. The efforts of supply chain partners and news media to educate and present information to consumers about food preparation and healthy eating are also being supported.
A summer grilling promotion planned to begin Memorial Day and run through Labor Day will celebrate beef as the center of grilling activities. The “United We Steak” campaign will feature each state in the country and highlight the favorite steak of that state. The campaign is being developed in close partnership with state beef councils to develop the state features, including individual web pages highlighting that state’s unique components. It’s hoped the timing of the campaign will leverage consumers coming together after the extended “stay at home” orders.
In Colorado, the Colorado Beef Council created the Colorado Beef Directory — connecting consumers and producers who sell direct (listings can be entered at any time), go to http://www.cobeef.com and click on Cattlemen’s Corner. According to Todd Inglee, the council’s executive director, staff is working with supply chain partners to share information and help ensure that product keeps moving to retail shelves.
Consumer ad messaging on social media/digital/radio/streaming platforms has been redesigned to assist consumers with home cooking recipes, safe food handling and batch cooking instructions. While remote learning is the norm, education materials have been transferred to a digital format to help provide teachers with online learning tools.
Staff is working to provide data and resources to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado Emergency Response Team, FEMA, and Homeland Security on the impact of processing plant closures and with industry trade organizations sharing information, providing public statements and talking points to consumer/producer media, government agencies and national media.
Inglee said while the council is not allowed to influence public policy, they have been working to represent the end-product side of the industry. He said a crisis like this requires all segments of the industry to show up and provide the information they specialize in as the industry is better when it is working together.
In Nebraska, the Nebraska Beef Council Director of Marketing Adam Wegner said digital outreach is valuable with an influx of people tuning in online. Measuring the success of the efforts, he said, is nearly instantaneous online and people are turning to the NBC for information and recipes. The NBC Facebook page has seen about a 40 percent increase in views over the past 30 days with a reach of about 400,000 people. This has resulted in a huge engagement increase.
“Getting the content out there is one thing but then we’re seeing people engage with it,” he said. “We’re up 121 percent in engagement just in the past 30 days on our Facebook page because people are watching videos, they’re leaving questions and comments, they’re liking content we’re putting out there and that’s been great to see that people are not only seeing the content but they’re receiving it and it’s information that they’re looking for.”
The NBC has a year-long YouTube campaign and they were able to shift some advertising dollars to support it, resulting in nearly 1.4 million engagements between Google, Spotify and YouTube. With an eye toward costs, he said engagement cost is well below the industry average at 2 cents per view.
Wegner said there is an influx of people seeking out producers and content, including videos, that allow consumers to make a connection are well received. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 768-0024.