With technology always advancing, shoppers want to know more about food origins. That’s why the beef industry wants to create connections with them.
“We’ve tried for the last 20, 30, 40 years in the industry, trying to educate consumers and telling them, ‘Hey, listen, this is the way you need to cook your beef steak,’ or, ‘This is the way you need to make sure and cook your hamburger patty.’ And we finally have stopped educating them and now we’re trying to just engage and relate to them personally,” says Brad Morgan, meat scientist at Colorado State University.
That approach keeps consumers happier as they keep buying beef.
“So people are wanting to know the things like DNA traceability, they’re wanting to know about consistency, they wanted to have guaranteed tenderness. They’re wanting to know where it was fed, how it was managed, those types of things. People also want to know, ‘Hey, listen, do you have my back?’ That’s what they want to know,” Morgan says.
Scientists are focusing on four groups – meat lovers, moms, marbling seekers and millennials.
“Obviously, still our core basis, core customers, are meat lovers, and they like the things like rib-eyes and tenderloins and strip loins and high-end cuts. The moms are a very powerful group of consumers. They control 20 trillion dollars worldwide. In fact, they control $7 trillion in the United States. People expect products to taste good and obviously marbling is certainly a big part of that equation. And millennials … are 25, 26 years old. They’re pretty laid back, pretty casual, but one of the things you find out quickly about them is that they love meat, especially ground beef,” he continues.
Growing consumer interest in animal welfare and beef traceability adds importance to how the beef industry communicates those trends.
“There is a sweet spot. People want to know where it came from, how it was handled, how it was managed, but they don’t want to get into a lecture about DNA and all of that. We need to be able to explain our industry in about 30 seconds. And so we need to make sure that they understand that we have the technologies in place to trace it back to where the animal was born, where it was fed. Was it ever sick? How was it managed? Was it handled humanely? And again, that technology is starting to become reality,” Morgan says.
The search for definite answers calls on traceability programs – a tech trend that Morgan says will grow to become second nature.
“I think eventually, traceability back to the rancher or back to the feedyard, it’s going to become kind of the common norm. It’s going to be the commodity expectation for our industry,” he says.
Of course, that’s going to take active producer approval and support.
“So when we start talking about building these programs, you have to have producers involved from day one, and you have to encourage them. Because if you’ll give them a target, they’ll hit the target. But we need to present the target to them and be consistent when we present the target and not move the target around or drop it on them at the last minute. So our producers are very important for these types of programs to be developed and to be sustained for 52 weeks in a year,” he concludes.