Assessing the New Consumer and the Trust Metric

by Shawn Darcy, Associate Director, Market Research, and Nikki Richardson, Director, Reputation Management, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff


Consumers have instant access to a wide variety of resources including information on how cattle are raised for food. This access has created a dynamic in the purchase decision paradigm with consumers, where many are considering factors that focus on transparency in addition to price, convenience and taste. There is a strong interest and concern around how animals are raised for food, yet most consumers have little to no knowledge about the topic. With the proper tools, the beef community can become part of this conversation and help shape consumer perceptions with the evolving consumer.


To understand the new consumer, we must first look at what has changed around them. Technology advancements have led to constant and continuous access to information. While it is true that the millennial generation drives this growth, the impact expands beyond them. More than 80 percent of consumers, ages 18-64, have access to the Internet, with that number growing to over 93 percent for those under the age of 501. For most, this access is literally at their fingertips. In 2015, it was estimated that 70 percent of consumers have a smartphone and 40 percent of consumers own a tablet device2. Considering these advancements, it only makes sense that consumers and the information they use to make purchase decisions have also evolved.


How have consumers evolved? 

A study conducted by Deloitte revealed that consumers are using a new set of evolving factors to make their purchase decisions. These ideas include transparency factors that focus on social impact, safety, experience, and health and wellness, whereas traditional purchase decisions were based on taste, price and convenience. This is not to say the traditional drivers are ignored but that the decision process has become more complex. Over 50 percent of consumers are utilizing these additional evolving factors in their purchase decision - a dynamic that holds true across region, age and income demographics.3

Figure 1 – The Consumer Value Driver Plate

Further, in a study on transparency in 2013, 78 percent of consumers claimed it is very important for grocers and restaurants to provide information on how food is raised. Not only do consumers want this information but they also do not currently feel they are getting the information they want at these venues because industries have something to hide (40 percent).4

How does this relate to meat and beef specifically?

Insights from the Consumer Image Index (CII), which is a tracking survey run annually that monitors consumers’ perceptions around beef production, indicate only around 1/3 of consumers claim to have knowledge about how animals are raised for food. We know from other market research studies that this number becomes more diluted when focused on specific topics (i.e. antibiotics, factory farming). Findings from the CII illustrate that consumers find it important for meat industries to openly share information with the public (78 percent), yet only 44 percent of consumers feel these industries are doing so. In addition, over 50 percent of consumers (even higher for specific topics) are concerned with how animals are raised for food.5 This concern originates from a combination of factors such as instant access to information for consumers, lack of knowledge and a strong interest in learning about this topic (90 percent).6 The dynamic creates a large gap of consumers who are interested and concerned but do not have the knowledge base to support those prior inclinations. Perhaps the gap is best expressed through the words of a consumer when asked to describe the beef production process.

“I really don't know. The cow is born, bred, and then kept in pens I guess and then killed and sold.” (Addressing Misperceptions of Factory Farms - 2014)

As the consumer continues to evolve, beef wants, and needs, to be part of these important conversations. 

What types of information do consumers want? 

There is clear evidence that consumers want to know more about how their food is raised. The Beef Checkoff has been and will continue conducting market research on beef production, as well as developing tools to meet the evolving consumer’s needs. Some of the learnings from research indicate the best way to proactively tell beef’s story is by leveraging the following6:

  • Bring the entire beef lifecycle to life with strong visual support (e.g. video)
  • Incorporate all the people involved in the process, including family and other credible parties (e.g. vets)
  • Show what is happening throughout the process (e.g. space in pens for room to move)
  • While respondents are looking for transparency, be mindful (e.g. slaughter process)
  • Place content where consumers are (e.g. online)

This is an example of a piece of content created because of the research.

By using tools such as the pasture to plate video, concerns around beef production decreased, positive emotions increased and it made consumers more comfortable with how cattle are raised.

Here is the impact of the video in their own words:7

  • “I had no idea that farmers cared so much about their animals, I was always fed information that farmers are brutal to their animals when it comes to food processing.”
  • “I had never really given thought to meat processes before... and we already eat beef, but learning things by watching the movie makes me feel even more comfortable.”
  • "Before this video, I've only seen images and videos of horrible conditions where cows and other animals are horribly mistreated and the deplorable living conditions.”

How do we know if we are making progress? 

Recognizing this new consumer, the Beef Industry Long Range Plan includes a measurement of consumer trust. This is validation that the industry knows that consumer trust is important, has taken steps toward improving that trust, and wants to see an impact over time on consumer attitudes from their actions and communications. 

A benchmark has been created among consumers that highly trust the industry. That initial benchmark is 32.8 percent with a goal to improve this trust metric to 36 percent over the next five years.  


Instant access to information has increased the factors that go into the decision-making process for consumers. They want more transparency about where their food comes from, especially from food companies and industries. With that in mind, research shows a high-level message that illustrates the entire beef lifecycle with strong visual support is the best approach to alleviating concerns about the industry. 

Additional Resources

  1. Today’s Digital Consumer, Pew Research Center, Americans’ Internet Access 2000-2015, June 2015 
  2. Today’s Digital Consumer, comScore MobiLens and TabLens, US, 2000-2015
  3. Deloitte Food Value Equation Survey 2015, Deloitte Analysis
  4. Transparency Survey, Maslansky + Partners, May 2013 
  5. Consumer Image Index, October 2015
  6. Addressing Misperceptions of Factory Farms, 2014
  7. Production Video Validation, 2015






Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Spring 2016, Trends Analyses

March 28, 2016