If those of us in the meat industry have learned anything from 2020, it’s that even the most thoughtful predictions go out the window in the face of a pandemic. But it’s precisely that pandemic that has irrevocably altered how we do business and exponentially accelerated the trends we’ll be focusing on in 2021. Here are Midan’s top picks for the meat industry trends to watch next year:
1. Increased Consumer Focus on Health and Wellness
“Food as medicine” and functional food trends were evolving before COVID-19, but the pandemic ramped up consumers’ health concerns, driving them to consider foods based on their perceived health benefits: immunity, healthy oxygen levels, muscle repair, energy and fat to muscle ratio. To really play in this health space, the meat industry will need to amplify meat’s protein and essential nutrient benefits messaging. In a June 2020 Datassential report, only 13% of respondents selected red meat as a food that could aid immunity or strengthen recovery if they got sick. By comparison, 39% chose citrus fruits.
2. Ongoing Refinement of E-Commerce
COVID-19 propelled e-commerce into the stratosphere, forcing retailers and online outlets to scramble to meet the demand of house-bound consumers. Note to retailers: Midan’s September 2020 COVID-19 survey revealed that 34% of meat consumers say their primary method of purchasing meat will be online after COVID-19. That same study also revealed that consumer ratings of grocery store delivery and pickup services had increased dramatically since June, indicating more positive experiences are likely creating more committed online shoppers.
3. Bigger Push Toward Automation and Technology
COVID-19 highlighted the vulnerability of a meat supply chain that is dependent on a human work force. More packer/processors will research and invest in technology to supplement the production process, such as Touchless Automated Production (TAP) that can cut quarters and primals or produce case ready portion control products. Hilton Food Group, for example, has been constructing and running automated facilities across Europe for 25 years. Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms are also being tested to safeguard against labor gaps. We’ll continue to hear about new production technologies that can deliver greater efficiencies and profit margins in packaging, e-commerce and inventory management.
4. Deeper Dive Into Shopper Demographics
Today’s U.S. meat consumers span multiple generations and a myriad of cultures. Expect to hear more about Gen Alpha, the cohort born between 2013 and 2025 and the first generation to be born entirely in the 21st century. How will these children of Millennials shape the meat industry?
Speaking of Millennials, 44% of this largest living generation are considered multicultural, according to ACOSTA’s Spring 2019 report, The Importance of the Multicultural Consumer. The traditions and heritage of multicultural shoppers – including U.S. Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans – lead this audience to shop differently. The intersection of varying ages, different cultures, countless omnichannel shopping options and an unprecedented range of protein offerings means it’s more crucial than ever to gain a deeper understanding of today’s evolving meat consumers.
5. Growing Interest in Alternative Proteins
While we’ve been focused on the pandemic, alternative proteins have continued to encroach on traditional meat territory: Beyond Burger® 3.0 is launching in 7,000 CVS stores in January, a restaurant in Israel began serving lab-grown chicken last month and Singapore just approved the sale of cell-cultured chicken produced by U.S. start-up Eat Just. According to Midan’s Flexitarian Profile report, one-fifth of consumers are Flexitarians, those actively replacing meat with vegetable- or plant-based proteins as a main dish daily or several times a week, and this percentage is likely to grow as plant-based (and soon cell-based) marketing gets even savvier and consumers become increasingly interested in their personal well-being and the environment. Understanding the purchase drivers for these products is key to keeping traditional meat on the plate.
6. Greater Urgency to Define Sustainability
Sustainability is a behemoth topic that resonates with environmentally conscious consumers, but one whose definition is very murky, in the same way that many consumers still don’t understand the difference between “natural” and “organic.” The challenge to the meat industry here is two-fold: How do we responsibly address the range of issues that fall under the sustainability umbrella like climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare, transparency, carbon footprint and zero waste AND tell a cohesive story to our meat consumers? Sounds like a good group project for the meat industry…
7. Higher Demand for Value…
With the downturn in the economy caused by COVID-19 and 11 million people unemployed as of October 2020, expect to see consumers gravitate toward value options in the meat case, including bulk, commodity proteins to stretch their budget. According to the Power of Meat 2020 Midyear Report, meat promotions matter to 9 in 10 shoppers, while 32% say price per pound determines what and how much they buy more frequently now than pre-pandemic. Midan’s September revisit of our Meat Consumer Segmentation 2.0 research also revealed a significant jump in the percentage of meat consumers called Convenience Chasers, a segment that is price-conscious and interested in convenience, from 30% pre-COVID to 39% post-COVID.
8. … and a Rise in Demand for Premium
Midan’s September 2020 COVID-19 study confirmed that 54% of consumers are seeking out what they call “healthier” (claims-based) meat and chicken, and according to IRI POS Syndicated data, organic, grass-fed and no antibiotics claims-based beef volume sales grew roughly 3x faster than general beef sales between mid-March and the end of October. The Power of Meat 2020 Midyear Report cites that during the pandemic, 31% of meat shoppers purchased claims-based meat products because it was all that was in the meat case, but of those that bought claims-based only because it was all that was available, 75% expect to continue to purchase claims-based meat and poultry.
9. At Home Cooking is Here to Stay
Rodney McMullen, CEO of Kroger, said it best: “… it’s something that will be a long-term trend because people have, one, learned how to cook and, two, found they really enjoy it. And the other thing that’s special, is when families eat as a family, they stay together.” Midan’s October 2020 COVID-19 survey supports this: Consumers who plan to eat at restaurants less often after the pandemic stated that they’ve gotten used to cooking at home and that it is a better value and health proposition. And one more plus: According to the Power of Meat 2020 Midyear Report, Millennials increased their meat knowledge while experimenting in the kitchen during COVID. To keep a wider variety of meat on their plates, we’ll need to continue to provide innovative and visually appealing recipes.
10. Industry Relationships are the Key to Success
As COVID-19 so vividly demonstrated, strong relationships across the supply chain helped the industry respond more cohesively to the crisis. With a united goal of mitigating supply chain upheaval, industry partners worked together: Retailers started selling foodservice cuts to help shuttered restaurants with their surplus meat. Packer/processors scrambled to supply product to retailers as consumers surged the meat case. Foodservice began selling directly to consumers and partnering with retailers to offer restaurant-quality meals at home. Although we see plenty of automation on the horizon, it’s solid partnerships like these, focused on meeting the needs of today’s meat consumers, that will continue to advance the meat industry.
We’ll be diving deeper into many of these topics throughout 2021; stay tuned into the Midan blog next year to gain ongoing insights into tomorrow’s evolving meat consumers.