As consumer prices continue to rise for everything from gas to grocery items such as meat and dairy products, the question of how long shoppers will be able to maintain their normal purchasing habits is becoming more and more of a concern. On the meat side, a number of consumers have already reached their breaking point, explained Danette Amstein during the Animal Agricultural Alliance Stakeholders Summit.

Amstein’s Midan Marketing tracks consumer meat purchasing habits, and even when looking at data from March, they found that about one-third of consumers were already purchasing less meat. Among those shoppers, 78% said it was because they couldn’t afford it.

Farmers, including dairy farmers who contribute to the meat market when cows reach the end of their dairy life, know that many factors are contributing to the rising costs of meat. “Consumers, however, don’t really understand that. They’re just thinking prices have gone up,” Amstein said. How do we combat that to ensure animal proteins remain part of the grocery list?

There is good news. Amstein shared that most consumers aren’t cutting back on meat but are working to find other ways to make it work into the budget. She said 56% of consumers reported trading down to less expensive cuts or types of meat, including 40% who said they were using more ground beef. “Consumers are finding ways to resolve this in their mind, put meat on their plate, and keep moving forward,” she said.

Still, keeping a strong demand for animal products means helping consumers prioritize meat and not trade it out for other sources of protein. Amstein said that will require providing stability of products and explaining the value these products bring, nutritionally and environmentally.

Stability is a broad topic that means different things to different shoppers, but Amstein attacked it from the angle of consumer values, which often relates back to sustainability. Specifically, they often want to know how the animal was cared for. “When we answer that question, we gain permission from hesitant consumers to buy our product,” she explained. “They want that permission from us; they love to eat it, they love the taste of it, and they want that permission.”

She emphasized that food and agricultural organizations often have great metrics showing their sustainability efforts, but explaining that those animals are well taken care of is necessary for consumers to trust that information.

To communicate the value of animal products, she encouraged the audience to teach people how to use those items and, especially in the environment of inflation, how to stretch them into more meals. The pandemic allowed more people to learn and gain confidence with cooking at home, and Amstein cited data estimating that 80% of meals are still being cooked at home. That’s compared to 50% pre-pandemic.

Amstein reminded that whether consumers are more interested in the nutritional or sustainability facts of an animal product will depend on the person. But sharing the value of our products is how we will weather the inflation storm, she said.

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June 13, 2022
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