Consumers Share Insights about Production Practices: 2014 Update

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 2014 Consumer Image Index indicates that consumers are somewhat 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 many consumers, concerns about beef production include things like antibiotic/hormone use, inhumane treatment, crowded conditions and cattle diet. The study also found that while many consumers, and especially parents, are very favorable toward beef producers, others are less comfortable with the use of science to alter the genetics or body composition of cattle. From an overall industry perception standpoint, the term “factory farming” is not strongly associated with beef production. In fact, that phrase is associated more with chicken production and the confinement and treatment of chicken.

Background

It is always important to understand how consumers view your product. For beef, one way that is achieved is through the checkoff funded Consumer Beef Index, which includes importance and performance measures on a number of beef-specific attributes. It is also important to understand perceptions of how beef is produced 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 in 2011, 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.”

Discussion 

Consumer Image Index Approach

The Consumer Image Index was benchmarked in 2011 and then launched in 2012. The most recently completed 2014 measure marked the third 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 millennial consumers relate to beef and the beef production process.

Conclusion

Overall, chicken is perceived more positively than beef and the gap has not narrowed over last year
• However, consumer perceptions of beef and chicken production are much more similar.

 

In 2014, a shift in targeting was introduced into the beef industry image discussion to better understand perceptions among some key segments of the population

  • Socially Conscious Proactive Consumers – The most receptive segment and a strong conduit to other consumers (69 percent of the population)
  • Socially Conscious Millennials (18-34 non-parents) – “Average” socially conscious consumers (27 percent of the population)
  • Socially Conscious Parents (20-34) – Strong advocates for beef and beef producers (11 percent of the population)

Socially conscious proactive consumers are engaged and knowledgeable about meat production.

  • These consumers differ from others, not only in their awareness of the issues, but in their willingness to take action on them.
    • They care more than other segments about: 
      • Beef safety and recalls
      • Use of drugs and hormones on cattle
      • Humane, ethical treatment of cattle
      • Factory farming
      • Environmental impact of beef production 
      • GMOs used in cattle feed
    • They engage more than other segments in:
      • Weekly meatless meals (almost 2:1)
      • Learning about meat industry practices

Socially conscious millennials are a less distinct group.

  • These consumers are knowledgeable, aware and concerned, but are neither quite as engaged/active as proactives, nor decidedly positive toward the beef industry as parents.
    • Their attitudes and actions reflect their social consciousness.
    • They feel good about the beef industry’s sanitation and safety practices, as well as animal health and treatment.
    • They are characterized by their heavier use of chicken than older consumers.
    • They are more likely than non-millennials to obtain meat industry information from:
      • TV talk shows 
      • YouTube
      • Social networks
      • Blogs
      • School
      • Meat industry websites

Socially conscious parents want the best for their families.

  • They are:
    • Heavy beef users (30 percent versus 25 percent for the total population) 
    • More likely than other consumers to see value in spending more for better quality food 
    • Likely to continue, and even increase, their beef usage
    • Very favorable toward the beef industry, particularly its sanitation and food safety standards
    • Very favorable toward beef producers

Producers are generally appreciated and respected by target consumers, especially by parents.

  • Everyone in the beef production chain, from ranchers to restaurateurs, receives more esteem from target consumers than from the general public, which is less opinionated about those who raise cattle for food.
    • In particular, the mention of cattle being raised in “grass pastures for their entire lives” generates an overwhelmingly favorable response from target consumers. 
  • Language and messaging that seemingly debases the animal (i.e., “diet delivered three times a day in feeding troughs,” “for all but the last few months of their lives”) causes a significant drop in support.
    • Likewise, targets are uncomfortable with the use of science to alter the genetics or body composition of cattle, perhaps because they are uncomfortable thinking of the animals as “products for consumption.”
  • Language that individuates and conveys respect for the cattle as living beings (i.e., “check on the health of each animal”) increases support for the industry.

Several industry-related issues were explored in-depth this year and offer insights for messaging.

  • The issue of “factory farming” is not strongly associated with beef production.
    • The phrase is more likely to be associated with chicken than beef production. 
    • And it is thought to be more of a negative with respect to the confinement/treatment of chickens versus cattle.
  • With respect to fresh beef, consumers see ground beef as somewhat more risky than steaks or roasts.
    • Certain target consumers tend not to be concerned about the beef they order at restaurants; they worry more about the fish and seafood they order. 
  • Science and technology used to improve the safety of beef for consumers is strongly endorsed by target consumers.

Additional Resources

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Research Findings, Spring 2015

March 26, 2015