In the future, people will judge food value on two key factors: the taste satisfaction they experience and the amount of work they must do to get it.

They want maximum satisfaction with minimum work input, according to Sen. Feargal Quinn who is a member of the upper house of the Irish parliament and a food retailer from Dublin, Ireland. Quinn emphasized the power of taste and convenience in the message he delivered to the 2000 International Livestock Congress held this spring in Houston, Texas.

Quinn is founder of Superquinn, employing more than 4,200 people in 17 large stores and eight shopping centers, specializing in fresh foods and selling no non-grocery items. From his perspective as a leading grocery retailer, Quinn claimed the meat industry worldwide is living in the past.

"The past is one of managed markets, with largely captive customers and endlessly rising demand. The future is one in which the customer calls the shots, and the businesses that succeed will be those who recognize that fact and act on it," he said.

"In recent years there has been much lip-service paid to the idea of becoming customer-driven. But, if we judge from what actually happens, the old mind-set still remains very much in place," added Quinn. "It's clear to me as I listen to customers, that the meat industry is not yet giving its customers what they want. To the extent that those needs are not being responded to, opportunities are being passed up. The future of meat is not
in resisting customer power, but yielding to it and profiting from it."

Quinn listed five specific areas where the meat industry might be failing to fully engage the customer, including nutrition, safety, taste, saving work(convenience) and value. With regard to nutrition, meat shares the plight of every other foodstuff in that it must justify itself in health terms. According to Quinn, trends throughout most of the Western world and especially in certain countries clearly indicate preferences for less fat,
less red meat, less meat of any kind as a proportion of the meal, and less overall protein and calorie intake.

"The wish for meat to become a smaller proportion of the meal suggests to me that the future for meat lies not in quantity but in quality," said Quinn. "Even if quantity goes down, but quality goes up, perhaps the overall value increases."

While customers once took food safety for granted, Quinn said safety is now of paramount concern. This is true all across Europe, particularly in the wake of several well publicized food scares. The lesson to learn, he warned, is that the customers will always win, whether they are right or wrong from a scientific point of view. So, Quinn called it vitally important that customers be properly informed of the scientific facts about meat.

"What customers need is hard fact and reliable fact. By hard fact, I mean such information as the source of what they are buying. In my company, when the BSE beef crisis struck in Europe, we'd already had a traceability scheme for four years. We could tell customers precisely what farm the meat they were buying had come from. And we did. Our customers felt confident enough to stick by beef and eventually, even to increase their buying," explained Quinn.

For reliable scientific fact, Quinn said customers prefer independent scientists rather than those funded by producers. He warned that funding of food science research must be at arms length.

While people must eat to survive, increasing affluence means people eat to enjoy, making taste the key satisfaction measure of all food. Quinn suggested that the meat industry has not paid enough attention to factors that affect taste, all the way from the pasture to the table.

"The end product is taste, and the number of ways in which taste can be reduced, or even destroyed, is quite daunting. We are talking about how the meat is produced in the first place, how it is treated along the long road to the customer, how it is processed, how it is stored, and by no means least, how it is cooked," he said.

And while people want taste satisfaction from their food, they want to spend less time preparing it. They want food that's easy to prepare, or food that's already partly or completely prepared. The changing structure of families means fewer people are sitting down to meals together. Instead of one person cooking for several people, the tendency in Western societies is for people to cook for just two or three. Very often, a person just cooks for one.

"This adds up to the most dramatic change in the food business for generations. I see the shape of the food business, over the next 20 years, being determined by this change," stated Quinn. "People still want to eat, but they do not want to prepare food. This has profound implications for catering, for retailing, and for food production. People in the food business who are market-driven will make their plans and lay out their strategies in the light of it."

Quinn's fifth and final lesson from the market place addressed the issue of value. He noted how not all of the previous considerations necessarily represent value to customers. They are not things for which customers are willing to pay more. They won't pay more for food to satisfy their nutrition requirements, nor will they pay more for compliance with food safety needs. Nutrition and safety are things customers expect. Meeting that expectation is not something for which the industry is likely to receive payback. Adaptation to nutritional preferences and safety assurance represent the
cost of getting into the competitive arena in the first place, according to Quinn.

"On the other hand, people will pay for taste. They will pay more for satisfaction and taste is their measure of satisfaction and, increasingly, the basis on which customers make their choice. It's worth remembering too, that an important aspect of taste satisfaction is novelty. That is a challenge to producers of food and food ingredients," Quinn offered. "In addition, people will pay to reduce the work they have to do with the food they buy. As time goes on, people can be expected to pay more and more so
they have to do less and less."