HUNTIN' DAYLIGHT -- BEYOND TRANSPARENCY

by: Wes Ishmael

Arguably, there has never been more opportunity for agricultural production around the world—especially red meat production, and beef production, specifically.

For one thing, like it or not, we're living during an age when there are always more people, never fewer. Depending on the statistics you look at, the global population is pegged at 9.6 to 9.8 billion people by 2050. It's about 7.6 billion today. Closer to home, the current U.S. population was about 326 million last year. It's projected to be around 400 million in 2050, again, depending on what projections you believe. So about 26.3 percent more people globally (using the low end of estimates) and 22.6 percent more domestically.

We're also living during a time of enormous growth in global middleclass wealth.

Global middleclass spending will reach $51 trillion by 2030, up from $35 trillion last year, according to Michael Uetz, managing principal of Midan Marketing, a marketing firm serving meat industry clients, focused on demographic trends. Speaking at the recent World Meat Congress (WMC) in Dallas, Uetz noted that middle class population is projected to grow from 3.2 billion last year to 5.2 billion in 2030.

Unfortunately, for some of us of a certain age, trying to understand what the growing majority of these consumers want and how they think—really understanding and believing—is already slightly harder than roping a shadow.

We've heard lots about the Millennial generation (born approximately 1981-1996) for a long spell now, and for good reason.

“Millennials, some 2.3 billion strong (worldwide) are the largest generation in history and are about to move into their prime spending years and change how we do business for decades,” Uetz explains.

“Consumers in the millennial generation are the ones asking the most questions about how farmers and ranchers raise their food,” according to, Millennials are Key to Beef Consumer Marketing (MKBCM), from the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board. “Checkoff-funded consumer market research shows us that the key generation for beef marketing—Millennials—practically live on their computer devices. They tell us that they get virtually all of their information online, then use that information to draw conclusions and make important decisions about agriculture and the food they eat.”

That's both good and bad for beef.

On the one hand, 65 percent of the general public wants to know more about their food, according to Roxi Beck, Consumer Engagement Director for The Center for Food Integrity (CFI).

On the other hand, the gap continues to grow between what the beef industry knows and what consumers perceive.

Beck shared ongoing CFI research with WCM participants. In 2017, 55 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed strongly agreed that if farm animals are treated decently and humanely, they have no problem consuming meat milk and eggs. That was down from 61 percent a year earlier.

In the same research last year, only 25 percent believe U.S. meat is derived from humanely treated animals. That was down from 38 percent a year earlier.

In a similar vein, at WCM, Justin Ransom, senior director, Sustainable Food Strategy at Tyson Foods shared some of that company's ongoing consumer research. It had to do with the importance of company practices and policies in consumer purchasing decisions. Respondents ranking these as very important: 48 percent — Avoids inhumane treatment of animals; 45 percent — Provides safe working conditions; 31 percent — Truly cares about communities where it does business (more later).

As for Millennials, specifically, according to the MKBCM, “They use social-media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to get beef recipes and information about beef and the beef industry. In addition, they share their thoughts about beef and beef production through these platforms. And they look online for what their fellow consumers are saying about beef, then look online elsewhere to see if the information is scientifically sound.”

In other words, these consumers want more than what has commonly been regarded as transparency, and they'll tell everyone, plus three cousins, what they find.

Ransom shared an interesting observation from Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit:

“A brand is no longer what we tell the customer it is; it is what customers tell each other it is.”

“Today's consumer is a ‘pro-sumer,' which means they are going to co-create their story and it's about ‘Brand Me,'” explains Jeff Fromm, a partner at Barkley, a company that assists with establishment and enhancement of brands and helps businesses identify emerging consumer trends. “And the reality is, that consumer has a lot of expectations. They expect to have a seat at the table. And if you've heard in the past that it's just about being transparent, our research suggests that's going to get you a ‘C' on your report card. In ‘Tomorrowland,' you're going to have to offer proof that the story you are living is real – which is a step beyond transparency.”

Fromm—the best-selling author of books that include Marketing to Millennials, Millennials with Kids and Marketing to Gen Z—also shared insights at the WCM.

“We live in an era of radical transparency where internal culture is as important as a company's external message,” Uetz says. “Millennial moms are leadings the transparency movement; 86 percent would pay more for a product with full transparency.”

Those that follow the Millennials, Generation Z (born after the Millennials and up to about 2012) are at least as demanding. Uetz says that generation will account for 2.56 billion of global population and 40 percent of all consumers by 2020.

According to Uetz, Consumer expectations regarding transparency have evolved and include questions such as: Is it healthy, organic, locally produced, GMO-free, minimally processed? Is it safe long-term; was the worker treated fairly; was the animal treated humanely; is it environmentally sensitive; is it ethically sourced?

That doesn't necessarily say what they want the answer to be, but that they expect an answer. And, as Fromm said earlier, “You're going to have to offer proof that the story you are living is real.”

Consider Tyson Foods. Ransom shared highlights from that company's 2017 Sustainability Report, its goals and progress. Among them:

• Reduce our environmental impact as we feed the world

Achieve a 12 percent reduction in water use intensity by 2020

Achieve a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030

• Educational assistance to employees

$837,497 in 2017

• Support communities they serve

38.8 million lbs. hunger relief product donations (2017)

1.58 million lbs. non-hunger relief product donations (2017)

$50 million in cash or in-kind donations to fight hunger by 2020

Of course, there is lots about livestock in that report, too, from the third-party audits of livestock and suppliers to the company's Animal Well-Being Policy and Commitment and Mission Statement. Head to that section of their website, as an example: “To drive a culture of responsible animal welfare, all team members across the enterprise receive high-level training in animal well-being as part of our general compliance training. Team members in positions that require live animal handling also must complete rigorous animal welfare training before working with live animals. Our animal well-being specialists ensure that this training is delivered, updated and customized to each position—from catch crews and livestock haulers to team members in breeding houses and those who handle live animals at plants…”

Consumers are demanding more of those who supply their food—grocery stores, restaurants and the like. In turn, these are demanding more from their suppliers, like Tyson. Ultimately, these demands are passed along to producers. The good news is that in most every case, producers are already providing what consumers are demanding, along the lines of things like humane livestock care and environmental stewardship. It's a matter of continuing to improve and becoming more proactive about sharing the information.







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