All Articles Uncategorized CPG How meat producers are meeting the shifting needs of today’s consumers

How meat producers are meeting the shifting needs of today’s consumers

The current needs of meat consumers have producers in the industry responding to multi-faceted demands including sustainability, convenience and taste.

6 min read

CPGFoodFood RetailUncategorized

Young people grilling meat

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When Verde Farms’ founder Dana Ehrlich visited South America on a backpacking trip over 20 years ago, he visited several ranches where he had the opportunity to experience authentic South American barbecues with the ranch gauchos. Surprisingly to Ehrlich, the meals didn’t have a negative effect on his digestive system and, in fact, he felt like his body was processing the meat well.

“So then when he got back to the United States, he looked in grocery stores and tried to find a 100 percent grass-fed, organic beef, and lo and behold, he couldn’t find it,” said Verde Farms CEO Brad Johnson in an interview with SmartBrief at the 2024 Annual Meat Conference in Nashville, Tenn., last month. “And that’s kind of when the idea was born to start Verde Farms and bring that experience to everybody.”

Over the last two decades, Verde has used that grass-fed, organic beef focus to differentiate itself in the meat aisle where it has since been joined by other meat producers hoping to find room in that space, as well, as the demand for organic, grass-fed, regeneratively farmed and certified products increases, according to the Power of Meat study from FMI – The Food Industry Association, and the Meat Institute. Now, more than 80% of beef producers in the US are part of the Beef Quality Assurance program which raises the bar for sustainability and animal care standards, according to the Meat Institute.

“When shoppers hear ‘protein,’ they think ‘meat,’ and the Meat Institute is actively working to maintain and grow Americans’ confidence about meat’s role in healthy, balanced diets,” said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts in response to the study. “Our Protein PACT initiative drives progress and provides transparent information about how meat contributes to the health of people, animals, and the planet – which 83% of consumers are looking for when they make meat purchases.”

Shoppers speak up

“Consumers (are) increasingly demanding organic, grass-fed, regeneratively farmed and certified types of products and so what we’re trying to do is really stack all those claims and integrate those claims,” said Johnson of Verde Farms, which received Land to Market verification in 2023 for its regenerative agriculture practices. “What we’ve heard from consumers is they don’t want to choose just one or two of those things. The consumer that wants grass-fed also wants organic, and they also want it regeneratively farmed because they want it to be better for them, for the animal, for the people that are doing the work and for the environment.”

As a result, more meat producers like Verde – which received Land to Market verification in 2023 for its regenerative agriculture practices – “are leaning in to the sustainability story and telling that more aggressively than they had been, and combining it with other aspects like health and wellness,” said Andy Harig, FMI’s vice president of tax, trade, sustainability and policy development. “What we see in a lot of shoppers is they have a very holistic view of the products that they’re eating – that if it’s good for me, it’s good for the planet – and they really want that kind of systems approach to the way they eat.”

Other trends in the meat case

In addition to sustainability, meat producers are also factoring in other shifting consumer needs – particularly those of younger shoppers which differ a bit from older consumers, according to Harig.

“As younger shoppers come in, they have very different needs and wants that they are looking to fulfill. They overindex a little bit towards eating chicken, and a little bit less towards beef and pork. So there’s a little bit of an effort to address that,” Harig explained. 

There’s also a difference in cooking styles among age groups, Harig said. 

“When maybe older shoppers have families and they’re cooking for a larger group, a lot of these younger shoppers may only have one or two people in the house, and so you see changes in packaging to address that, where you have more individual-sized servings or two- or three-person servings,” Harig said. 

In addition, as Johnson and his team are seeing at Verde, meat shoppers are increasingly shopping in “the world of and,” said 210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink when discussing findings from The Power of Meat at AMC, explaining that, no one is focused on price alone.

“It’s the world of price and nutrition, price and convenience, price and sustainability, price and health,” Roerink said – a fact which presents both challenges and opportunities for meat producers, she added.

The aforementioned convenience factor is contributing to more meals at home – 87% of which contain a portion of meat/poultry and many of which are hybrid meals containing both cooked-from-scratch and value-added or fully cooked components, FMI found.

For that reason, “it’s important to keep convenience in mind when offering an assortment of meat and poultry items,” writes Rick Stein, FMI’s vice president of fresh foods. “Value-added options that are pre-marinated or reduce prep and cook time are important for time-strapped shoppers. At the same time, shoppers want meal ideation support with weekly meal plans and recipe and cooking tips.”

One of the biggest factors meat producers need to remember, Stein said when talking with SmartBrief at AMC? 

“It’s important to keep in mind the strengths that meat and poultry offer shoppers including that meat is a good source of protein and consumers enjoy the taste of meat,” Stein writes. “Seventy-three percent of shoppers agree that ‘meat and poultry belong in a healthy balanced lifestyle.’ In addition, 92% of consumers agree that something can be a great price but, if it doesn’t taste good, they won’t buy it again. Remember to focus on these key attributes of meat and poultry and remind shoppers of their benefits.”

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