An estimated 95 percent of Americans eat meat or poultry regularly. Although three-quarters of shoppers put an effort into making nutritious and healthful meat and poultry choices, “price per pound” is still the biggest driver of meat-purchasing decisions. Increasingly, consumers also seek transparency in how animals are fed, raised and cared for from birth to harvest.
While conventional meat sales are down 3 percent to 5 percent, meats with a special production claim realized 25.9 percent dollar gains and 38.3 percent volume growth compared with the year prior. “Raised in the U.S.A.” and “antibiotic-free” are the top requested items for expanded assortment, closely followed by “all-natural” and “no added hormones.” Consumers often need clarification about such claims to aid their purchasing decisions.
Certified organic meats come from animals that have never received any antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones. Organic beef may come from cattle that spends time at a feedyard and can be grass-finished or grain-finished using certified-organic feed. Similarly, organic pigs are required to have access to the outdoors but aren’t required to be raised on pasture, and their feed must be organic. Organic poultry must be raised cage-free with outdoor access; feed must be organic.
Naturally raised meat comes from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones. Beef labeled natural may have spent time at a feedyard and can be either grain- or grass-finished. Generally, “natural” prohibits use of artificial ingredients, colorings or chemicals, and requires minimal meat processing.
Grass-Fed versus Grass-Finished
All beef cattle spend a majority of their lives grazing and eating grass on pastures. Grass-finished cattle spend their entire lives grazing and eating from pastures. These cattle may also eat forage, hay or silage at the feedyard. Grass-finished cattle may (or may not) be given FDA-approved antibiotics to treat, prevent or control disease. They also may (or may not) receive growth-promoting hormones. One common myth is that grass-finished beef supplies more omega-3s than conventional grain-finished beef. In reality, neither is a substantial dietary source of omega-3s compared with fish. Grass-fed pork and pasture-raised poultry are available in niche markets.
Federal regulation prohibits the use of growth hormones in poultry, hogs, dairy cattle and veal calves. However, use has been FDA-approved in the beef cattle and lamb industries since the 1950s to stimulate the gland that naturally produces hormones — resulting in increased growth, feed efficiency and carcass leanness.
The FDA and USDA recently agreed to create a new joint regulatory framework to oversee cell-based (cell-cultured) meat and poultry, wherein the FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation, while the USDA will oversee production and labeling of food products from harvested cells. Alternative-protein products derived from plants, insects or culturing seek to garner broader consumer acceptance.
Meat Aisle Education
Retailers should educate consumers about cuts, production methods and home preparation techniques. Shoppers who are more knowledgeable about meat tend to purchase an extensive variety of meats and cook with meat more often while displaying greater store loyalty, more frequent store visits and higher per-person spending. Offer shoppers a balance of recipes featuring familiar cuts, trendy meals made with new cuts, and ideas for convenient, easy-to-assemble meals.