Sustainability, animal welfare and social responsibility are prominent parts of many grocers' platforms and plans, as is the case with Albertsons, maker of the O Organics ground beef brand.
Meat of the Matter
The push for greater transparency is fueled by a variety of factors. Some shoppers have an innate curiosity about how food is made, and appreciate storytelling behind the product. Whether scanning a QR code on a label or stopping to read a placard placed near the meat case, they want to learn about the fourth-generation Colorado rancher who tends to her cattle, or the crew of Alaskan fishermen using careful practices to reel in a catch.
On a more serious note, a growing number of consumers are driven by their beliefs and values regarding larger issues like sustainability, animal welfare and social responsibility.
Shopper interest in sustainability, in particular, is accelerating and influences perceptions of meat and poultry offerings. According to a recent report from research firm Midan Marketing, more than a third (34%) of meat eaters have become more concerned about the sustainability of meat products in the past year, and 41% have become more concerned about sustainability in general.
As their eco-concerns grow, there’s a bit of a knowledge gap among consumers, according to Midan’s findings. Case in point: Although 86% of consumers are somewhat or very familiar with sustainability, only 68% are familiar with sustainably raised meat or poultry.
“While they are familiar with the term, understanding what it means to the meat shopper is important for retailers to shape their messaging around,” says Michael Uetz, principal at Midan Marketing.
The 2021 “Power of Meat” report, conducted by 210 Analytics and published by FMI — The Food Industry Association, also highlights the growing priority of sustainability among meat buyers. According to the report, consumers’ considerations of better-for-the-planet meat and poultry products grew 5% from 2019 to 2020.
Newer data from a primary shopper survey conducted in November 2021 by 210 Analytics shows that specific environmental considerations are influencing shoppers during the decision- making process. According to the survey, a brand’s commitment to limit package waste influences 42% of meat and poultry purchase decisions. That number is even higher for Millennials, for whom it factors into 48% of animal protein choices.
Mirroring the growing importance of sustainability, animal welfare concerns have become top of mind among protein consumers. The 2021 “Power of Meat” study showed that 44% of meat shoppers take into account animal welfare considerations such as animal living, feeding and care, and 55% believe that transparency on how and where animals were raised and produced is important.
Here, too, there’s room for better messaging, as a lower number — 39% — of consumers feel that they have enough information about animal welfare to make educated choices at the meat case.
Animal welfare often overlaps with sustainability, something that retailers should bear in mind, Uetz notes. “We often assume that consumers think of environmental issues when considering sustainability,” he explains. “What our research showed was that we need to focus on how the meat consumer defines the term when shopping for meat products — and that starts with animal welfare.”
When Midan’s researchers asked consumers what factors they consider when meat is raised sustainably, the top two responses were “animal welfare/humanely raised meat” and “animals raised without antibiotics/hormones,” Uetz adds.
In addition, the Midan study finds that 44% of consumers believe if a package of meat has a “sustainably raised” label claim, the animals were raised more humanely. “One way retailers can show this to shoppers is through imagery with cattle on a green pasture with lots of space,” Uetz observes.
Similar to environmental and animal welfare issues that reflect macro concerns, there is a set of shoppers keen to know more about the governance of companies and brands that produce animal proteins. The November survey from 210 Analytics shows that a brand’s commitment to fair pay, diversity and inclusion influences 49% of meat and poultry purchase decisions, and a brand’s support of special causes affects 54% of protein purchase decisions.
Meanwhile, before, during and likely after the pandemic, health and wellness are contributing to shoppers’ desire to learn more about the meat, poultry and seafood that they buy. Some good news on this front: According to the latest “Power of Meat” report, 81% of meat shoppers believe they have enough nutrition information to make educated decisions, compared with 57% of consumers in 2009.
None of these factors exists in a vacuum, of course, and the lines between these purchase drivers often blur. The same consumer may be keen on storytelling, look for products that align with personal values and beliefs, and hold high standards for the healthfulness, quality and safety of animal-based proteins.