Consumers Share Insights about Production Practices

by Rick Husted, MBA, Vice President, Strategic Planning and Market Research,  National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff

Summary
The checkoff-funded 2013 Consumer Image Index indicates that consumers are considerably more positive about beef the product than they are about beef production practices.  While consumer knowledge of production practices, be it cattle, chicken or hogs, is relatively limited, certain segments are more likely to seek out information.  For those recently exposed to a story related to beef production, concerns include subjects like antibiotic/hormone use, diseased/sick cattle, inhumane treatment, crowded conditions, cattle diet and method of slaughter.  The study also gained considerable insight into how best to communicate to consumers about beef production and what the hot buttons are that turn consumers off (e.g., talking about the feed yard, referring to “slaughter”).  Consequently, the most positive ways to talk about beef have less to do with production and more to do with beef’s health or nutrition benefits like being lean or being a source of vitamins/minerals and protein.

Background
It is always important to understand how consumers view your product.  For beef, the checkoff-funded Consumer Beef Index is a key study for understanding beef demand drivers, including importance and performance measures on a number of beef-specific attributes.  It is also important to understand perceptions of the beef production process and those areas of greatest interest and/or concern to consumers.  To address these important issues, the checkoff launched the Consumer Image Index (CII) study, using results and insights to help set image-related strategic direction for the checkoff and to support the long range plan core strategy to “Strengthen the image of beef and the beef industry.”

Consumer Image Index Approach
The Consumer Image Index was benchmarked in late 2011 and then launched in October 2012.  The most recently completed 2013 measure marked the second consecutive year the final study has been fielded.  The CII study is an annual online survey of approximately 1,200 consumers, typically conducted in the fall, taken from a nationally representative sample balanced for gender, age and ethnicity.  Respondents are further screened to be:

  • 18-65 years old
  • Involved in household grocery shopping and meal decisions
  • Within standard security screening (i.e., not involved in industries or professions that could unduly bias the results)

Additionally, target segments were identified to provide insight into how the more progressive, socially conscious and food/health involved consumers relate to beef and the beef production process.

Conclusions

Overall, chicken is perceived more positively than beef

  • However, consumer perceptions of beef and chicken production are very similar.

 

About one in four consumers say they have recently read, seen or heard something concerning about how (cattle/chicken) are raised for food

  • Beef concerns included things like antibiotic/hormone use, diseased/sick cattle, inhumane treatment, crowded conditions, method of slaughter and cattle diet.
  • Chicken concerns included things like over-crowded conditions at chicken “factories”, salmonella/recalls/people getting sick, unsanitary processing, and antibiotic/hormone use.

Consumers are becoming more and more interested in meat production and how their food is produced

  • More beef consumers are acquiring information about meat production, and from more sources than they did in the past.
    • Consumers are increasingly finding information about meat production on TV news, on food labels, in documentaries, from word-of-mouth (family and friends) and from online searches/sites.
    • More consumers are also sharing the information they find with family and friends
  • A primary target, Socially Conscious Proactive Food and Health Involved, 11 percent of all consumers, continues to be the most knowledgeable about production issues and most positive about the beef industry.
    • Knowledge about U.S. meat production practices generally improves respect for the beef industry’s practices among the general public.
    • Socially conscious identifies consumers that express interest in production subjects. 
    • Proactive identifies consumers that take action on information about food production.  
  • Consumers are also increasingly engaged in, and taking action related to, production issues.
    • Some consumers are buying brands or types of food they believe are more responsibly produced, including more organic meats and produce. 
    • Only the primary beef target takes it one step further by encouraging others to buy or avoid particular brands or products.
  • With respect to both beef and chicken production practices, consumers are feeling more informed.
    • Favorability towards cattle ranchers, butchers and grocers who bring beef to their tables increased significantly this year among the general public, approaching the high levels of regard held by the primary target consumers.
    • This favorability is strongest when “feedyards” are not referenced in relation to the beef production cycle.
  • While not considered a leading authority, ranchers do have strong credibility as an information source about beef production practices, even higher than registered dieticians.
    • The number of consumers who saw interviews or had conversations with cattle ranchers or farmers increased significantly in 2013.
  • Having “ongoing programs to produce the most nutritious meat possible” is increasing in importance to consumers.
  • The beef industry is seen as relatively strong and stable on this dimension, whereas the chicken industry is not seen as keeping up, particularly by consumers who are socially conscious.

Attitudes about beef production are improving among those who are socially conscious – especially about food safety practices

  • While primary target consumers are strong supporters of beef industry practices, they also want even more transparency, perhaps more directly aimed at understanding the industry’s standards of practice and ethics.
  • Messaging that creates positive perceptions of beef, and increased intention to buy it, includes:
    • Part of a healthy diet to decrease cholesterol
    • Contains minerals critical to body function
    • Protein-rich
    • Helps preserve open spaces for wildlife
    • Leaner than a decade ago
  • Information that causes consumers to buy less beef focuses on:
    • Antibiotic use
    • Hormone use
  • Consumers are reasonably comfortable with antibiotics being used to treat sick animals and they expect medications to be used under the supervision of a veterinarian and within USDA guidelines.
  • Use of the latest science and technology is seen as a positive when it leads to improved food safety, animal care and enhanced nutrition for the animal.
    • However, science is less appealing and not persuasive as part of a claim on packages at the point of purchase (e.g., scientifically formulated diet).

Additional Resources
2013 Consumer Image Index

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Research Findings, Spring 2014

April 4, 2014