Addressing Millennial Perceptions of Beef Production and Factory Farming

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

Summary
Millennials are concerned about factory farming in relation to beef production in the U.S.  While generally uninformed and lacking familiarity, they are still able to identify specific aspects of the beef production process that concern them most, including inhumane/crowded conditions, food borne illness, hormone use, GMO’s and disease.  Further, Millennials tend to associate the entire beef process with factory farming rather than singling out specific stages like feedyards, packing plants or cow/calf operations.

When it comes to addressing these concerns, fact-based stimuli presented in a visually appealing, credible format work best.  While other stimuli like articles and blogs are also effective, the research found that a narrated video, showing the entire beef production process, resonated most with Millennials and most effectively addressed concerns.  Additionally, Millennials are most likely to seek this type of information online and consider sources like the FDA, USDA, academics, family farm owners and veterinarians to be most credible.

Background
Consumers have varying degrees of interest in knowing where their food comes from and how it is produced or raised.  With increasing online access to this type of information, consumers are much more readily finding “answers” (factual or otherwise) to food-related questions.  Given advancements in the ability to communicate broadly and find information quickly, activists have become much more adept at spreading propaganda that can negatively impact perceptions of agriculture and related production practices.

One theme that encompasses many of the concerns related to beef production is what takes place at the feedyard, or “factory farm.”  According to one checkoff funded market research effort, feedlots/feedyards are either not understood or perceived negatively.  Out of concern that these perceptions could have a lasting negative impact on consumer confidence, the beef industry needs to consider being more proactive and transparent when communicating the facts about the beef production process.

Research Purpose
The purpose of this checkoff funded research was to understand perceptions of the beef production process and identify effective means of communicating to Millennial consumers about main concerns related to the process, the feedyard and factory farming.  A two-phased approach (i.e., qualitative followed by quantitative) was used to gather these insights from Millennials, who were the focus of the study based on their importance to the future of beef consumption.

Conclusions
Understanding Millennial Perceptions
Knowledge of the beef production process, feedyards and factory farming is very limited.  One-in-four Millennials are familiar with the beef production process and only 17% are familiar with feedyards.  Further, while Millennials have heard of factory farms, familiarity is very low.  Top concerns related to the entire beef production process include inhumane/crowded conditions for cattle, food borne illness, hormone use, GMO’s and disease.

Which one item is most concerning to you in relation to beef production? (Top five listed)

Roughly one-third of millennials are concerned (extremely/very) about factory farming and when defining it tend to associate the entire beef production process with factory farming rather than any individual stage or activity.

Which part(s) of the beef production process do you most associate with factory farming?  Select all that apply.

While clearly not unanimous, this insight implies that simply addressing a single aspect or two of the beef production process will not fully address Millennial misperceptions about factory farming.

Exploring Millennial Reaction to Stimulus
Once general perceptions about factory farming and the beef production process were assessed, Millennial’s were exposed to stimuli communicating information in a variety of formats to determine which, if any, would most positively impact perceptions and/or concerns about beef production.

The results to this exposure found that information carrying fact-based messages about the overall production process, packaged in an engaging, visual manner, were most effective at improving Millennial perceptions.  While all stimuli had a positive impact on Millennial perceptions, the most positive treatment was a short video that used a narrator and examples to communicate the facts about the entire beef production process, from cow-calf operations through the channels, ultimately reaching the consumer.

The treatments, which also included two articles, a blog and a myth-specific video, all improved perceptions about concerns specific to the beef production process (e.g., inhumane treatment, hormone use, etc.).  Results also showed a considerable increase in positive perceptions of factory farming (i.e., accepting, hopeful, trusting) and a considerable decrease in negative perceptions of factory farming (i.e., suspicion, worry and uncertainty).  Again, the narrated video was most effective at eliciting improved perceptions about specific aspects of beef production and factory farming.

How concerned are you about the following items in relation to beef production?  (Narrated video)

Regarding the most effective stimulus, the narrated video, millennials had this to say:

  • The main message to me in the video is that there are regulations in place to prevent mistreatment of animals and the spread of diseases.
  • The beef is carefully cared for and produced with the consumer in mind.
  • I am somewhat relieved to know that the cows have access to fresh air, clean water and food.

Preferred Sources of Information
Millennials are most likely to get information about the beef production process from the internet search engines (47%), television news channels (39%), online news sources (35%), special TV programs (32%) and food and health blogs (31%).  Regarding credibility, Millennials state that the following are most credible when it comes to receiving information about the beef production process.

Thinking about sources from which you may receive information about the beef production process, how credible do you believe the following are? (Top five listed)

Additional Resources
2014 Millennial Perceptions of Beef Production 1

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Research Findings, Winter 2014, Year in Review 2014

December 15, 2014