Natural meat sales spike during Covid

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Although consumers have slowly shifted to buying meats with terms such as “hormone-free”, “antibiotic-free”, “humanely raised” and other similar claims, COVID has really made people think about products. healthier, and sales data indicate that the natural category has grown significantly. during the pandemic.

Midan Marketing, a research consultant for the meat industry with offices in Chicago and Mooresville, North Carolina, did a report late last year and found that nearly three-quarters of buyers natural meat producers like to know where their fresh meat products come from.

“It indicates that we need to do a better job than just adding a claim to the label,” said Michael Uetz, director of Midan Marketing. “We will need to find ways throughout the omnichannel experience to tell the story of where the meat comes from and how it was raised.”

The research also found that 49% of natural meat shoppers fell into the family food lover segment.

This gives retailers the opportunity to tell a story about their natural meat products, helping them feel comfortable that the product they are buying is safe and healthy.

“These consumers are centering the health and nutrition of their families, especially their children, on their meat purchases. This group is asking for permission to give this product to their family, opening the door to storytelling opportunities.

The trend hasn’t slowed down, as consumers are not only looking for these claims in 2022, but they are also interested in knowing where their meat comes from and that it was raised without cruelty. They want to know that the meat they serve to their friends and family is nutritious and responsibly produced.

Chris Oliviero, managing director of Niman Ranch, based in Northglenn, Colorado, noted that it used to be that brands could slap on an “all-natural” claim and call it a day, but consumers have become much savvier when these are natural meats.

“Consumers are increasingly wary of greenwashing and are looking for verifiable claims from transparent brands,” he said. “We are seeing more and more consumers, especially younger shoppers, asking questions about environmental sustainability when it comes to meat. They want to know what regenerative practices are taking place on farms and ranches so they can feel good about how their purchases are making a difference and fighting climate change.

To better tell its mission-based story, Niman Ranch released its first Impact Report this year, documenting the regenerative practices underway on its farms and the positive impacts the farmers and business model are having on the land, animals and rural communities.

An increasingly important attribute that consumers are looking for in the natural category is cage-free meat. California’s Proposition 12 and Massachusetts’ Question 3 — state laws prohibiting the sale of pork, eggs, and veal raised on farms using crates — have made consumers keenly aware of this issue and other concerns. other topics related to animal welfare.

“Consumers are more educated and empowered than ever and retailers need to be ready to answer their questions and respond to their demands,” Oliviero said.

According to the Food Marketing Institute’s Power of Meat 2021, there’s no doubt consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about the growing practices behind the meat they eat, as four of the top five claims shoppers expect from their aisle meat are directly related to the way the animals are raised.

“With the upcoming deadline for Proposition 12 in California, Question 3 in Massachusetts, and action by 10 other states over the past 10 years to provide more humane husbandry conditions for animals raised for food, these requests are making their way into law,” said Sarah Findle, director of marketing and communications for Coleman Natural Foods, based in Golden, Colo. “Healthier animals mean higher quality natural meat, something Coleman Natural has known since the early days of retailing the first USDA-recognized natural beef.”

The Power of Meat report also revealed that a majority of consumers are willing to pay more for meat if it means they care about safety and believe they are feeding their families better. And this trend is already evident in the register.

Dan Stewart, director of marketing for Creekstone Farms, Arkansas City, Kan., understands that the natural category is an important part of retail customers’ meat cases, and the company is focused on providing a product that gives shoppers the possibility of improving their protein experience. .

“Our natural beef program starts with raising cattle in harmony with nature,” he said. “The longstanding relationships we have with our trusted livestock producing partners ensure that every animal is source verified from the ranch of birth. These ranchers are dedicated to certified humane animal handling practices, and all beef raised for our natural program respects the environment.

Define natural

Coleman Natural was the first meat company to champion and carry the official USDA “natural” label which required that meat using the term be raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.

While the USDA has downgraded the definition of “natural” to “minimally processed with no artificial ingredients,” most meat companies have their own definition and unique claims.

For example, Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods’ Open Prairie Natural Meats brand. goes even further with its Never Ever program.

“Our beef and pork products come from animals that have never received antibiotics, added hormones or growth promoters and are fed a 100% vegetarian diet,” said Britney Banuelos, senior manager from Tyson Foods fresh meat category.

According to Mintel, the most important attribute for buyers of red meat is that the meat is “all natural.” Stewart noted that Creekstone Farms’ natural beef and pork programs go beyond “all natural” to ensure the company offers innovative products that will inspire customers and consumers.

“Creekstone Farms’ Natural Black Angus Beef program includes several key elements, including no antibiotics, added hormones or growth factors, ever,” he said. “The program is certified cruelty-free by Humane Farm Animal Care, an industry-leading group that has certified the system since 2015. We believe this is an important part of our program because Certified Humane certification is third-party recognition that ensures animals are calm, relaxed and well cared for throughout their lives.

Importance of marketing

While prioritizing claims is important, Tyson Foods believes transparency and storytelling are a more valuable way to connect with shoppers and increase sales.

“Consumers will spend more on brands they trust and share their values,” Banuelos said. “To help supermarkets reach the consumer throughout their shopping journey, we have developed a comprehensive toolkit of marketing materials that includes producer stories, the nutritional benefits of our products and our animal standards.”

Coleman Natural Foods helps retailers by providing informative point-of-sale materials with QR codes so curious customers can learn more about the farming practices and farmers behind the brand.

“We’ve also worked with retailers to create personalized, informative videos about our brand story to ensure shoppers have confidence in the better-for-you brands they choose,” Findle said.

Transparency is key for consumers and the more retailers can differentiate their product selection and showcase authentic brands and stories, the more loyal shoppers will be.

As an example, Niman Ranch has partnered with retailers to add QR codes to shelf displays and the meat crate to help them learn more about sustainable practices on its farms, added video screens in meat departments for farmer videos and deployed geo-targeted ads on social media to reach shoppers and educate them about trustworthy meat claims and labels.

“We’ve partnered with retailers to create meat destination sets for truly premium, attribute-driven products,” Oliviero said. “We filled these boxes with a mix of prepared, fresh and even different proteins. These unique suitcase sets provide a one-stop-shop for high-value, claims-driven shoppers. »

Rising interest

The pandemic has drastically changed consumer buying and shopping habits. Demand for natural meat exploded as home chefs shifted their food spend from restaurants to home-cooked meals. This has improved cooking skills and made consumers more accustomed to higher quality meats.

“During the peaks of the COVID pandemic, many consumers saw the limitations of the conventional meat business for the first time,” Oliviero said. “People have learned more about the food system than ever before and changed their shopping habits to support transparent brands that align with their values ​​- and we’re seeing these new habits stall.”

The natural segment is strong and continues to grow. As consumers become more interested in their food, they take the time to read the claims on labels and are invested in knowing where their food comes from.

“In 2022, brands can connect with consumers by telling stories and explaining how food gets to their table,” Banuelos said. “It’s a category that still has a lot of growth potential in the years to come.”

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