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Consumer preferences have changed and many are seeking locally produced beef

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become more interested in eating healthier, with protein a priority on their shopping lists. Since March, which saw a huge increase in retail meat and poultry sales, consumers have had high praise for beef. Forty-six percent said beef is the protein they’re most likely to order on their next food service trip. Forty-one percent of consumers crave a healthy meat or poultry dish they can’t re-create at home.

“There are things you can do for this,” said Danette Amstein, managing principal of North Carolina based Midan Marketing, during a webinar for livestock producers interested in selling beef directly to consumers. The Jan. 6, webinar was part of a week-long series about meat marketing, hosted by the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The beef industry, since March, has gone through a change, but it will return to a new normal, Amstein said. But regarding the current state of the marketplace consumers have a lot on their mind with the pandemic, politics and health.



“Although 82 percent are worried about the overall economy, 91 percent of shoppers say local businesses are trustworthy, which is great news for people to buy locally from farmers and ranchers. Fifty percent of consumers are interested in buying food from a local farmer,” said Amstein, who works closely with meat industry clients to help them surpass business goals.

Married with two children, Amstein earned a degree in animal science at Kansas State University and looks forward to helping out and driving a combine when she goes home for the annual wheat harvest on her family’s farm in Jetmore, Kan.



“The problem with consumers is they’re always changing their mind,” she said. It continues to get more complex with the next generation so this is helpful for beef producers as they work inside their operation while trying to attract consumers.

THE NEXT GENERATION

Since March, COVID quickly accelerated some trends, Amstein said, particularly the access to technology and social platforms, where the younger generation spends a lot of time.

Gen Z-ers (ages 8 to 23) are asking more questions. Millennials (ages 24 to 39) are more than willing to pay more for extra transparency. “And, consumers want to know how you raised the beef, where it came from, what is guiding you in your decisions, and why you’ve done what you’ve done. They want to understand the value of buying the product from you,” she said.

Gen Z-ers are willing to try anything, Amstein learned from her research. They are food influencers because they’re constantly taking pictures of food and sending them, but most don’t know how to cook. “They are more likely than millennials to replace meat with green vegetables in the future. Also, the population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, which is helpful to know when you’re messaging your product,” she added.

There has been some good news for the beef industry in the pandemic; freezer sales were up 450 percent in first months of COVID, Amstein said. Shoppers were experimenting. She showed a graphic that highlighted consumer choices, noting that:

*53-percent of consumers are buying and freezing more meat and chicken than usual.

*62-percent of shoppers are experimenting with more ways of cooking meat and chicken.

*54-percent of consumers are seeking healthier cuts of meat and chicken.

BEEF CHOICES

After interviewing random consumers, Amstein shared helpful input she learned when asking people about their beef choices in the pandemic.

A consumer in Chicago named Leslie, who never froze meat until the pandemic, said a common theme among her and other consumers is that they don’t know what to do with certain cuts of meat.

“It would be helpful to show the different cuts of meat online and what they’re good for, or a good replacement, so I can go online and see what to prepare,” Leslie said.

Another consumer, Kevin said shopping is not necessarily about quick or cheap.

“Sometimes I like to toss in the instant pot (pressure cooker) and make curry chicken or something else ahead of time, and my finance always has ground turkey for salads.” he said. “I eat meat almost every day; chicken Monday through Friday. I switch to beef and pork on weekends. The biggest challenge with shopping now for me is COVID; going into a store with apprehension and anxiety being around other people. If you have an idea of what you’re going to cook, and you go there and it’s not available, you end up just going home. I’ll wonder what to replace it with, and how to move from one beef cut to another,” Kevin said.

Claims-based meat are coming more into play, like grass fed, and GMO-friendly advertised on products. “Since it was all that was available at the beginning of the pandemic, now consumers are sticking to that,” Amstein said.

There are several topics that beef producers could become more comfortable with, Amstein said.

SUSTAINABILITY

“Let’s start with sustainability,” she said. “It’s kind of a quagmire right now, and we had big news in August, when Walmart announced that by 2025, they aspire to source the fresh beef products more sustainably.”

Although Walmart hasn’t defined sustainable yet, when they do there will be a race for high quality protein going into their stores.

“More and more consumers are using this term, because more companies are talking about it. We often hear in a negative way that agriculture is part of the problem,” Amstein said. “Consumers are getting very confused, they are interested in plugging in and getting more locally grown meat which they believe helps with sustainability.”

Younger consumers want to connect and feel better about what they’re doing, from minimizing food waste to ethical labor practices, and buying locally grown food.

Many consumers are looking for the antibiotic-free label. “If you’re using antibiotics, explain why you’re using them or what you do when an animal gets sick,” she said.

Beef producers are passionate about animal welfare. “It’s what we do. Consumers want to see pictures of cattle out in the open and chickens roaming,” said Amstein. “We have to remind consumers, we’re taking good care of animals, but we’re raising them for meat — bring them back to the mindset.”

Pointing to a photo of a meat counter in a grocery store, she said “There’s nothing here that’s telling a story,” Amstein said. “So, that’s where you, the livestock producers could brand your product to tell your story, build the trust component and build loyalty. When you have all that, you also get to charge more and make sure you get the most you can for your animals.”

That way producers could be in a better position to hand off the operation to the next generation.

For more information, go to http://www.midanmarketing.com or Shop Kansas Farms a Facebook group to connect people to the farm and ranch families of Kansas to purchase meat, dairy and veggies.


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