Fat is Flavor!

maggie-o'quinnAs a southerner raised in Georgia and now a proud nine-year resident of Alabama, I have enjoyed a lifelong love affair with saturated fat. I live for pork BBQ from local hole-in-the-wall restaurants with dirt floors (my favorite is Fresh Air BBQ in Jackson, GA), CAB® fat-on tri-tips on the grill and my husband’s buttermilk biscuits where lard is the not-so-secret ingredient. And no respectable southerner serves their greens without some saturated fat to make our dishes sing:  We are unapologetic about adding bacon to our kale and ham hocks to our collards.

I was born in 1975 at the time the “war on fat” was raging in our country. But I never understood why saturated fat was considered the evil enemy until I read Nina Teicholz’ book, “The Big Fat Surprise.” Her book is a fascinating dive into the studies that propelled the low-fat diet craze into our modern day lexicon.

A few key takeaways from the book that help explain how fat came to be the bad guy:

  • In the 1950s, Ancel Keys, a professor at the University of Minnesota, was the leading researcher to demonize fat because he provided a quick answer to why middle-aged men were dropping from heart attacks: eat less fat. Despite lots of flaws in Keys’ research methodology, his idea prevailed because several prominent leaders died from heart disease, including President Eisenhower. Corners were cut to back up Keys’ flawed science due to the pressure to find a solution.
  • The American Heart Association (AHA) recommended a diet low in saturated fats to prevent heart disease in 1961 on the basis of Keys’ work, and the government followed the “war on fat” bandwagon in 1980 by publishing the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans which later became the basis of the USDA food pyramid.
  • AHA pamphlets published in the 1970s and 1980s recommended that Americans control their fat intake by increasing refined-carbohydrate consumption. To avoid fat, people should eat sugar, advised the AHA.

Fortunately, a paradigm shift is happening: As early as 2011, nutritionists began admitting that saturated fats aren’t as harmful to us as carbohydrates. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease aren’t caused by saturated fat but rather by sugar, white flour and other refined carbohydrates.

I was thrilled to see saturated fat redeemed in the October issue of Prevention magazine whose target audience is women my age (read: we are 40+ but know our best years are yet to come if we follow a healthy lifestyle!). In an article filled with delicious meat-inspired recipes entitled “Bring Back the Flavor,” Dr. Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic admitted that much of the early science on saturated fat was flawed. “Saturated fat is essential to our functioning. We now know that whole foods high in saturated fat can improve cholesterol quality, cognitive function, and even metabolism.”

And the global fat outlook is bullish according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute: Fat will increase from the current 26% of calorie intake to 31% by 2030. Saturated fat will grow the fastest, increasing from 9.4% to 13% of calorie intake.

While this is great news for the meat industry, long-standing public opinion is slow to change. Knowing this backstory spelled out by Nina Teicholz only makes it more clear to me what those of us in the meat business need to do:

  • Shamelessly tell your story. Share your unique selling proposition with your target audience – they crave your products!
  • Tout the health benefits of saturated fat in your products.
  • Remember that you are in the flavor business. Fat is flavor! Your products are the proteins of celebration!

Pass the bacon, the porterhouse and the pulled pork sandwich, please.

About the author:
Maggie lives on a farm in Alabama with her husband, James, and three-year-old son Jimmy. They will welcome another little boy to their family in 2017, who will grow up with lots of delicious saturated fat recipes passed down from multiple generations of farmers and foodies. Maggie joined Midan Marketing in April as the new business development manager.

7 Things to Consider for 2016 Planning

It’s that time of year again:  college football season!  And while I am all about watching my beloved K-State Wildcats, this season also signals a key period for meat industry professionals:  planning time.  That means careful analysis of historical sales data along with a watchful eye on emerging consumer trends.  To help you think about where the industry is headed as you plan for 2016, we’ve put together seven tips that address the trends we think will have greatest impact on the coming year:

  1. Promote meat as the ultimate protein: Hello meat leaders, we need to be shouting this from the rooftops, on all packaging and POS and in every B2C ad!  Until we make a concerted effort to spell this message out to consumers, those pesky center-of-the store items boasting added protein will continue to steal our thunder. 2016 has to be the year when consumers can’t miss the message that meat is the best source for protein.  Learn more.
  1. Sell meat as an ingredient: While we in the industry like to think that thick steaks or chops still rule the center of the plate, today’s consumers think differently.  We have entered a new era where consumers are choosing cuts that can be mixed with other ingredients for convenience, flavor and budget reasons.  If you want to reach consumers where they are right now, provide meat in more ingredient-friendly ways.  Learn more.
  1. Focus on what your brand does best: Branded meat must fill a niche.  If your brand is trying to be everything to everyone, you dilute your message and end up with mediocre results.  Identify your target and put a laser focus on them.  It‘s okay to say “no” to a potential customer that wants you to change something about your brand.  In 2016, keep your brand messaging focused, engage your customers and consumers who fit your target and don’t detour.

2016 blog photo

  1. Explain what you do and why: Lately, it seems like everything we do in production agriculture is called into question. To counteract this, the meat industry must be transparent.  Consumers want the opportunity to understand why you do you what you do.  For years, we haven’t taken the time to explain our practices and by not doing so, we appear guilty of hiding something from the public.  If you want to silence our very-vocal critics, make 2016 the year that your back story is prominently featured on your website and promoted on your social media channels.
  1. Reconsider your packaging: The Boomers have fewer people to feed each night and the Millennials rarely sit down at the table.  This creates a conundrum with our conventional packaging.  We need case-ready single portion steaks and chops to meet the needs of both groups. Demographics don’t lie:  the make-up of our population is changing, and your packaging must change to reflect this. Take a hard look at your packaging in 2016 and make it more consumer-friendly.
  1. Give consumers the convenience they crave: Boomers are busy filling their new-found free time outside the kitchen and most Millennials don’t know how to cook if it doesn’t go into the microwave.  We have to make the end goal of a great-tasting meal easier.  As your plan for 2016, include R&D dollars to find more value-added options to meet this consumer need.
  1. Explore your export potential: If you are not getting serious about the export potential for your branded meat programs, you are missing the boat (yep, pun intended here).  The global middle class is growing by leaps and bounds, with most of the growth taking place in Asia.  With discretionary spending comes the desire for premium offerings.  In 2016, create opportunities for your branded programs outside the U.S. by telling your story and engaging these quality-hungry consumers.

Agree? Disagree?  Leave me a comment or email me your thoughts.  I always enjoy hearing from you!

I hope your planning season is wrapped up well ahead of the college football bowl games.  I plan to be planted on the couch, wearing purple and cheering on my Wildcats!

UPDATE:  2017 Planning Blog now available

3 Things to Consider for FY 2015 Planning

It’s always interesting to me how consumer trends across the board shape what happens in the meat case. As you plan for FY 2015, here are three trends that you should consider:

  1. Capitalize on the Protein Craze

A walk down any center grocery aisle will tell you that protein is one of the hottest buzzwords right now. It’s as if the rest of the world just figured out what we’ve known all along:  protein is a big deal. Everything from cereal to pasta now boasts added protein, and consumers are gobbling it up. This trend means good things for the meat industry — we have a lock on protein!  Not only is meat an excellent source of naturally-occurring protein, it tastes great. Would you rather get 23 grams of protein from a nice juicy Strip Steak, or 11 grams from a bowl of Cheerios™ Protein?

The message consumers need to hear is this:  look no further than the meat case for protein-rich, nutritious food.

Other nutrition topics we need to pay attention to include recent challenges to established USDA guidelines on fat intake. Headlines are swirling that saturated fat, long considered to be a diet no-no, might not be so bad after all. Consumers who have been restricting their fat consumption might now consider coming back to the meat case. You need to be ready for them, and loudly proclaim the incredible value of protein-rich, flavorful meat.

Read more:

Last 50 years of diet advice on meat, saturated fat could be wrong

Low-carb trumps low-fat for weight loss and cardiovascular risk: study

High-protein diets linked to lower blood pressure: study

  1. Give Permission to Spend More

There’s no way around it:  beef prices are continuing to rise, and the price gap between beef and other proteins is widening. Current beef prices, already about 30% higher than 2013 levels, are expected to climb another 12% in 2015, while pork and poultry are expected to drop about 15% and 8%, respectively.*

For beef retailers, it’s no time to shrink. (Pun intended!) Instead of apologizing for the sticker shock, give your customers permission to splurge on what some have been cutting back on: beef.  According to Len Steiner, demand is one of the drivers of higher-than-expected prices.* For beef lovers, nothing satisfies like a tender, juicy steak, and sometimes all they need is a little nudge to get over that price hurdle.

Pork and poultry retailers, you should soon be sitting pretty. With those anticipated lower prices, you will be perfectly poised to develop messaging around being the most affordable protein choice.

Read more:

*Fat is in, changing meat economics: Steiner  

  1. Thin is In

Bigger beef carcasses are leading to even-higher-priced steaks. Savvy retailers already know that cutting primals into thinner cuts generates packages with more-appealing unit prices for customers. But have you thought about the across-the-board implications of thinner cuts?  Merchandising should include simple meal suggestions and shorter recommended cooking times to ensure a positive eating experience. Prominently feature recipes on your website that showcase thinner cuts and revised timings.

Another reason to pay special attention to thinner cuts is a shift in demand for portion sizes. Large segments of the population, particularly Millenials and Boomers, are now looking for smaller package sizes and smaller cuts. More than ever, you need to be aware of customers’ needs and evaluate your product mix and merchandising programs to meet those needs.

Read more:

Bigger Cattle; Smaller Steaks

What do you think?  What’s on your mind as you’re planning for FY 2015?  Please leave a comment below or feel free to contact me directly at d.amstein@midanmarketing.com.

3 Basic Things U.S. Consumers Take for Granted about Meat

I know I am preaching to the choir, but sometimes we all need to stop and say thank you. It is my turn to do that.

I have just returned from two weeks in Uganda. My trip spanned three different areas: Kampala, Uganda’s capital and only metropolitan area; Lira, a medium-size city 200 miles north and a bit east of Kampala; and the very desolate villages of Northern Uganda where there is no electricity, plumbing or asphalt roads, just extremely bumpy dirt roads with huge ruts carved by the recent rainy season.

My trip afforded me the opportunity to visit a couple of grocery stores in the capital city and witness how meat is sold in a mid-size town and in villages. In the remote areas, meat is a treat that’s saved for celebratory events and special holidays. The preparations for such a meal harken back to the early 20th century in the United States, when young boys were taught the art of catching, slaughtering and handing over meat to the women of the community for cooking.

So what did I miss about home while I was there? Lots of things (like a hot shower!), but given my profession, I found myself often thinking about what the U.S. meat industry is very good at:

  1. Safety – I don’t question the safety of the meat I buy at a grocery store or order at a restaurant. The industry’s track record has proven that I don’t need to worry about the protein on my plate.
  2. Variety – I appreciate very much that I can eat only what I choose to and don’t have to figure out how to consume an entire animal when I want to eat some protein.
  3. Taste – Thanks to the reliability of electricity and refrigeration, we can enjoy meat prepared to bring out its best taste, not cooked to a very high temperature for a very long time just to make it safe to eat.

My trip provided me with the opportunity to eat a variety of proteins: beef, pork, lots of chicken, some goat and even a few termites. One thing the Ugandans know better than the average American is where their meat comes from. Even in Kampala it was not unusual to see live chickens hanging upside down from bodas (small motorcycles) on their way to become someone’s dinner. At one point I was walking and had to scoot out of the way of cattle that were meandering unattended past me!

So as I re-enter life here in the states, I want to pause and count my blessings for all the hard workers in our meat supply chain – the farmers and ranchers, the packing plant line workers and the supermarket stockers – for the work they do that allows me to enjoy the best meat in the world!

I think I will go have a steak – medium doneness please!

See more photos of Danette’s Ugandan adventure!

 

photo-credit