As we know from everyday life, when we assume we understand someone else’s preferences, desires or concerns, we’re often wrong. The beef industry is learning that lesson with regards to consumers. Before we can understand what they want, we need to ask them. And even then it isn’t simple.
In presentation to the International Livestock Congress last week in Denver, John Lundeen, who serves as NCBA’s senior executive director of market research outlined some of the ongoing efforts to learn more about beef consumers, and what those studies reveal.
The good news is that most consumers love beef, and the right kinds of messages could motivate many of them to consume more of it. There are however, some disconnects or misconceptions the industry needs to address.
Take for example consumer perceptions of “beef” versus their perceptions of “cattle production.” In a consumer survey, researchers found that 72 percent of respondents believe the positives of beef strongly outweigh or somewhat outweigh the negatives, with the rest believe the negatives of beef strongly or somewhat outweigh the positives.
They also found a strong correlation with consumption. Consumers who believe the positives strongly outweigh the negatives (group 1) eat beef an average of 2.5 times per week, while those believing the positives somewhat outweigh the negatives (group 2) eat beef an average of two times per week. Among consumers who believe the negatives somewhat outweigh the positives (group 3), beef consumption drops off to 1.5 times per week.
Lundeen notes that if the right messages could move some of group 2 into group 1, and some of group 3 into group 2, beef consumption would rise significantly.
However, when researchers asked consumers for their perceptions of cattle production, the percentage indicating they believe the positives strongly outweigh or somewhat outweigh the negatives dropped to 61 percent, an 11 percent downward shift from their perceptions of beef.
A 2011 feedyard messaging study also showed a disconnect in the ways consumers view beef production. Researchers showed consumers images and asked for their reactions. Shown an image of ranchers on horseback moving cattle across a green pasture, 74 percent of consumers liked the image. Only 40 percent however, believed the picture accurately reflects the beef industry. Shown images of cattle in a feedyard or cattle lined up at a feedbunk, only 23 percent liked the images but around 60 percent believe it reflects the industry.