Consumer attitudes and concerns over animal welfare pose challenges for retail and foodservice marketers, but also provide opportunities for new products and marketing strategies. A recent report from market research firm Packaged Facts entitled “Animal Welfare: Issues and Opportunities in the Meat, Poultry, and Egg Markets in the U.S.” examines these issues and opportunities.

According to the report, only 33% of grocery shoppers view themselves as well-informed about claims such as antibiotic-free, pasture-raised, and certified humane. Few consumers understand the meanings of product labelling, yet two-thirds of those consumers still desire federal regulations concerning animal welfare. The common assumption is organic standards provide better animal welfare and tastier, healthier end products.

This misconception is likely not due to consumer lack of interest, but rather the sources from which they gain information. According to the Center for Food Integrity’s 2016 Consumer Trust Research, 80% of consumers are interested in knowing more about agriculture and farming. However, when they search for information about food systems, 32% turn to friends and family who are not online, while 27% use Google or websites to learn more. Often consumers will crowdsource information from sources that may or may not be credible, then form opinions using what coincides with what they already value and believe.

Many consumers simply want to provide food that is ethically produced and healthy for their families to eat, which may include buying animal products raised with high welfare standards. Packaged Facts survey data reveals that 58% of consumers are more concerned about food animal welfare now than they were in previous years. Lack of understanding due to misinformation, combined with a desire to provide humane treatment for food animals, have led to shifts in consumer demand for meat, poultry, egg and other related products.

To remain competitive in meeting that demand, many food companies are adopting new animal welfare standards. Despite the fact that consumers’ perceptions are often based on mistruths or misunderstandings regarding production practices, food companies are finding ways to provide what this segment of the public wants. It’s another way to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.