Who’s eating the beef?


A beef marketing firm shows trends in US meat consumption. Each generation consumes meat differently. The baby boomers are mainly traditionalists when it comes to beef consumption. They like their meat, eating steaks, burgers and specialty cuts. Millennials love adventure. They, like Generation Z, also like experimentation.

Midan Marketing, a marketing firm that specializes in the marketing of animal proteins, researched what U.S. consumers like in protein and how consumer tastes have changed since the pandemic. During the December Kansas Livestock Association conference in Wichita, ranchers learned about marketing beef.

“We did some research in 2019 to help segment all us meat eaters into groups,” said Danette Amstein of Midan Marketing. “We looked at the natural behaviors of consumers.”

The marketing group originally wanted to place consumers in two buckets, but ended up putting them into five. What they found was eye-opening. They discovered vegetarians are not growing by leaps and bounds, and consumer purchasing habits — of meat — have changed markedly since the pandemic.

But what else they saw was even more dramatic: Consumers can be lumped into categories dependent upon age, or as they put it — generation.

Well, basically many people in every generation eat beef, pork or chicken. And these consumers fall into various pockets, with some being primarily meat eaters, others are flexitarians — eating animal and plant-based proteins, pescatarians — those who eat fish and plant-based proteins and vegetarians/vegans, those who do not eat meat. About three-quarters of the population are meat-eaters, with flexitarians coming in at about one-fifth of the population. The other categories combined make up 10%.

But, for the most part, according to Amstein’s research, the baby boomers, or the traditionalists, and many in Generation X, think every meal must have a fist-full of protein on it to make it a “real” meal. And usually, that protein is meat.

This group is buying meat and will continue to buy it. What has changed for them is since the pandemic, they are willing to order their beef online and experiment with recipes. The experimentation has helped them discover different cuts. They look at price and usually do not pay too much attention to where the pot roast comes from.

Then there are the adventurous millennials. “Our millennials are super important to us right now,” Amstein said. “They’re 25 to 40 years old, and they are at the prime of their meat-purchasing years.”

They are also laden with college loans, mortgage payments and often a couple of little ones. But Amstein said, they like meat. However, they want to know where the meat is coming from and if it was sustainably raised. Millennial consumers are the highest-spending generation, with a spending power of $2 billion per family, according to Amstein.

After the millennials come the “protein progressives.” “These folks are fun,” she said. “They typically skew younger than millennials and Gen X.”

Amstein said she was thankful for this group, Generation Z, which loves protein. But, she explained, they like all protein, including vegetable, fish and plant-based products.

“Basically, what they’re looking for is an interesting meal,” Amstein said. “They’re going to look at different ways to find that any way they can.” And, like millennials, Generation Z falls into the same category of wanting to know about their food.

In addition to the generations, there are the types of people.

Amstein labels five of the groups she studied this way: the aging traditionalists, the protein progressives, convenience chasers, family-first food lovers and the wellness divas.

The protein progressives, she said, were busy trendsetters looking to experiment. They like all proteins — from animal to plant-based.

The convenience chasers are price-conscious. They clip coupons and look for promotions. Quick and easy is their number one goal.

Family-first people love to cook. Gathering for a meal is a top priority. They tend to lean toward animal-based products for protein. In this group, the consumer, usually the mother, is looking for sustainability and health.

“She’s more interested in our natural and organic type products that we have available to us,” Amstein said.

The wellness divas are trying to eliminate meat. This category, according to Amstein, prefers chicken and plant-based proteins. These people are health and wellness focused. Since the pandemic, this group has gone from 12% in January 2019 to 8% in September 2020.

Both the family-first and the traditionalists are also decreasing. But the convenience chasers and protein progressives have both increased from four to nine percentage points since the pandemic.

When COVID-19 hit, all of a sudden, meat became scarce. Consumers looked online and decided to pick up their groceries from markets.

Amstein found that by March of 2021, 57% of consumers purchased meat and chicken online. In April 2020, the figure sat at 21%. Consumers, she said, had not wanted other people to pick out their meat. But as the lockdowns continued, that figure changed dramatically.

In addition, during COVID, more people, about 90%, were cooking at home. That number has decreased by about 10% but is still higher than before the pandemic, which was hovering around 50%, according to Amstein.

Amstein anticipates grocery e-commerce for meat will continue. Most consumers who have tried it, she said, are satisfied with online purchasing. Many of these consumers order on a grocery store app and then travel to pick the food up.

In addition to getting people more comfortable with cooking meat and shopping online, COVID-19 made more people aware of protein alternatives and sustainability issues.

“I believe strongly that sustainably managed livestock systems must play a critical role in global food and nutrition security,” Amstein said. “But to successfully feed a growing world population, it is also clear we need to scale up sustainable production that minimizes environmental impacts.”

To have a successful cattle industry, ranchers need grass and clean water. Often, the water that their cattle drink comes from the same place as the water their family drinks. In addition, cattle cost money, and most ranchers are concerned their cattle remain healthy.

“I think cattle production in the United States is one of the last business models that hinges on the conservation of natural resources,” said Mary-Thomas Hart, environmental counsel at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Ranchers, I would say more than anyone, are really invested in making sure that our natural resources stay healthy.”

The millennials, who are spending billions of dollars on food, are also concerned with sustainability. Amstein said, along with stories and appropriately labeled packages stating the amount of protein in each cut, many consumers want transparency. She said 86% of millennial mothers are concerned about knowing more about their meat.

“These moms say, ‘I will pay more for a product that is transparent because I want to know what’s going into it’ because trust and truth are held very high in the decisions they make,” Amstein said. “They want to know the truth, and they want to know that they can trust us and everything that we’re doing.”

As reported in The Hutchinson News.



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