In December, we surveyed a national sample of 1,000 purchasers of natural and organic meat. Here is the breakdown of the study respondents:
Natural: 925 respondents*
Must purchase natural meat at least multiple times per month
Organic: 575 respondents*
Must purchase organic meat at least multiple times per month
Non-purchasers: 200 respondents
Purchase natural and/or organic meat once a month or less often
*There is considerable overlap between the Natural and Organic purchaser groups – 87% of Organic purchasers also regularly purchase “natural” meat items, while 54% of Natural purchasers also regularly purchase “organic” meat products.
For both the Natural and the Organic groups, they must at least “somewhat agree” that they try to purchase foods free of fillers, additives, dyes, etc.
Here are our top 10 insights:
1. The Natural purchaser tends to be a “lite” version of the Organic purchaser.
Natural purchasers have similar attitudes and behaviors to Organic purchasers, but to a lesser degree. Organic purchasers appear to be more committed: The Organic purchaser buys natural and/or organic meat about 61% of the time, while the Natural purchaser buys it only about 52% of the time.
2. Natural and Organic purchasers seek out “free from” meat products more than general meat eaters.
Natural and Organic consumers prefer package claims they perceive are better for them, the animal and the environment. Approximately 87% of Organic consumers and 82% of Natural consumers say they look for claims of no hormones, no antibiotics and no additives, compared to roughly 56% of general U.S. meat consumers who say they look for those “free from” claims.
3. Natural and Organic purchasers tend to be more environmentally focused.
Both groups have higher expectations for companies/brands regarding their record on social causes and the environment than the non-purchaser group. While Natural and Organic purchasers have stronger attitudes toward social and environmental responsibility, the percent of Organic purchasers concerned about these issues is higher than that of the Natural purchaser.
4. 94% of Natural meat purchasers and 96% of Organic purchasers are looking for ways to improve their health.
Among both Natural and Organic purchasers, the top reason for purchasing natural and organic meat focuses on free-from package claims, followed by the perceived health benefits. They often discuss a connection between the way the animal was raised and their personal health.
5. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted Natural and Organic meat purchasing.
About 10% of buyers in each group began purchasing these claims-based products since the pandemic started. Health is the main reason why some Natural/Organic purchasers switched to claims-based meat since COVID-19; they want to feel healthier, lose weight and bolster their immunity. Additionally, 27% of Natural and 35% of Organic purchasers are purchasing more claims-based meat now than pre-COVID because of the perceived health benefits.
6. Organic purchasers eat a wider variety of proteins than Natural purchasers.
Organic purchasers tend to eat more plant-based meat alternatives, lamb and specialty meat and purchase various meat package claims (NAH, NAE, non-GMOs, grass-fed and locally sourced) at a higher rate than Natural eaters.
7. Natural and Organic meat purchasers mainly fall into two meat consumer segments.
One-half of Natural purchasers are Family-First Food Lovers while more than one-third of Organic purchasers are Protein Progressives. This aligns with Midan’s segment definitions: Family-First Food Lovers enjoy meat/poultry with nothing added, while Protein Progressives love all proteins, especially meat, but are also increasingly replacing meat/poultry with plant-based proteins.
8. Organic purchasers are significant drivers of online meat buying.
Sixty-eight percent of Organic shoppers have purchased natural/organic meat online during the past month, which is much higher than the average meat consumer (53% of shoppers have purchased meat/poultry online since COVID started, according to Midan’s September 2020 COVID-19 study).
9. Even among purchasers, there is still confusion regarding the definitions of “natural” and “organic.”
Roughly 75% of purchasers claim they know the definition of natural and organic meats, while 1 in 2 non-purchasers say they know the definition. About 38-48% of Natural/Organic purchasers believe the two terms basically mean the same thing.
- Natural: Across both the purchaser and non-purchaser groups, respondents generally define “natural” meat as not containing any artificial flavors, growth promotants or preservatives. Some also mention being non-GMO or humanely raised.
- The USDA defines “Natural Meat” as “Minimally processed with no artificial ingredients.”
- Organic: Definitions of “organic” meat for both purchaser and non-purchaser groups closely resembled responses given for “natural” meat, focusing on being free from antibiotics and pesticides with some individuals mentioning that animals are living in a more “natural” environment.
- To be labeled as “Organic Meat,” the USDA requires that animals be raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage and not administered antibiotics or hormones.
10. Organic and Natural meat purchasers tend to be brand loyal.
Seventy-four percent of Organic purchasers have a specific brand that they regularly purchase, while 62% of Natural purchasers say they have a regularly purchased brand.
The key takeaway here for packer/processors and retailers: The meat industry must market differently to today’s Natural and Organic meat consumers.
Unlike the average meat consumer, Natural and Organic meat eaters are actively seeking claims-based meat products based on their perceived health benefits and gravitating toward companies and brands that care about social causes and the environment. COVID-19 has helped ramp up purchasing by Natural and Organic meat consumers, as they are more concerned about the pandemic and have turned to claims-based meat to help boost their immunity. Understanding what these consumers care about, and why, can help you develop messaging and a brand story that acknowledges their concerns and aligns with their values.
There is also another key opportunity with this group of consumers: education. Even purchasers of Natural and Organic meats are confused about the definition of “natural” vs. “organic.” Helping these consumers, who have a strong interest in knowing about the foods they purchase, understand the differences between natural and organic meat products will create more informed meat eaters and foster greater brand and product loyalty.