With this in mind, we’ve assembled our annual “Top Trends To Watch” blog with an eye on the meat industry of course, but also on other key areas impacting today’s consumers: global events, the environment and technology. And as always, we’ve identified takeaways that can help you leverage challenges within the industry and beyond into opportunities to grow your business.
1. Global Conflicts & National Politics: Mindful marketing matters
World events have sharply impacted the food supply. The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has resulted in a dramatic drop in Ukraine’s grain exports. During the 2022/2023 grain production year, the country produced 29% less grain than the year prior.1 The conflict between Israel and Palestine also has the potential to cause issues within the food supply.
On the home front, Americans are more divided than ever about politics. This brings challenges for brands that don’t want their products associated with the aggression and vitriol that are rampant online. We are seeing a trend toward “mindful marketing,” a conscious approach where brands are intentional about not offending or alienating their audience. Mindful marketing entails a heightened awareness of the broader context in which a brand operates and a commitment to responsible communication practices.
TAKEAWAY: The volatile state of the world has essentially made “mindful marketing” table stakes for every industry. No matter what lens you look at these major issues through, you must consider how what’s happening halfway around the globe as well as what’s happening in our own backyard is affecting consumers’ wallets and mindsets.
1. Council of the European Union, Infographic – How the Russian invasion of Ukraine has further aggravated the global food crisis, 2023.
2. Ongoing Inflation: The trend that hasn’t gone away
It seems like we haven’t stopped talking about inflation – and consumers feel that way, too. While the annual inflation rate was lower in 2023 than the year before, consumers report feeling like prices just keep increasing. In October, former Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon was quoted as saying that consumers will start buckling soon for the first time in a decade as inflation, interest rates, polarized politics, global tensions and student loan repayments pile up.1 U.S. consumers are increasingly disenchanted with their current economic conditions and are pessimistic about future conditions as well, according to preliminary results from the University of Michigan’s November monthly survey of consumer sentiment.2
TAKEAWAY: Consumers aren’t just talking about inflation; they are taking action to mitigate it:
- Private and Store Labels Are Winning
One of the first ways we saw and continue to see consumers adjust to inflation is by opting for private label and store branded products. This is true for both fresh meat and poultry as well as processed products like sausage and deli meat. In 2023, preference for private label products was at its highest recorded point (16 years of data) and preference for national brands was at its lowest point since 2016 for both fresh and processed meat products.3 To keep their products on consumers’ radar, national brands might need to up their marketing budget. Private brands should continue to foster retail partnerships that help capitalize on this trend.
- Belt-Tightening = Just the Basics
Consumers are also concentrating on essentials right now. Almost half (46%) of shoppers say they’re focusing on specific pre-planned items when grocery shopping and avoiding impulse shopping.4 Consumers also leaned into essentials during Amazon’s Prime Day in October when 60% of the items purchased cost less than $20; protein shakes, batteries and Liquid I.V. hydration packets were among the top items purchased during the 48-hour sale.5 This is a signal to the meat industry to focus on affordable meat staples like ground beef.
2 Meatingplace, Consumers are getting gloomy, November 13, 2023
3 Anne-Marie Roerink, Principal, 210 Analytics LLC, The Power of Meat 2023, Report sponsored by Sealed Air Food Care Division/Cryovac® and Published by FMI and the Foundation for Meat & Poultry Research & Education
4 Circana Shopper Survey, April 2023
5 CNBC, Amazon says October Prime Day outpaced last year’s event, October 12, 2023
3. The Protein Supply: Pork has an opportunity to capture the spotlight
Beef, Chicken and Pork
Beef has been flat and inching toward constriction in recent months due to drought conditions and higher feed costs. The USDA is currently estimating that the global beef supply will be down 3% next year, even with an increase in exports out of Brazil. The USDA also reports broiler production will be slightly reduced in 2024 compared to 2023 due to weaker prices and lower imports and exports, but no significant changes in production are expected.1 Pork exports slowed over the past year, but production has not; according to USDA numbers, the U.S. is currently producing between 2.5 and 2.6 million head of pork each week.
With plenty of pork in the pipeline going into 2024, there is a significant opportunity for the pork industry. The right on-pack claims and marketing messaging along with an educated retail staff can help showcase pork’s benefits.
Alternative proteins are still on the radar, even though sales of plant-based meat alternatives remained flat in 2023. Consumers simply weren’t willing to give up the flavor and texture of real meat long-term for the purported benefits of the faux meat products. However, there is enough of a following for the alternative protein companies to continue investing in the space, so the meat industry can’t simply ignore them.
This year also brought government sign-off on cell-based meat development in the United States. Over the summer, Upside Foods and GOOD Meat both received final approval to serve their cultivated chicken products to consumers. Now those products are available in two restaurants: José Andrés’ China Chilcano in Washington, D.C., and Bar Crenn in San Francisco. Whether or not consumers take to cell-based meats more than plant-based alternatives remains to be seen.
TAKEAWAY: Beef will be a harder sell in 2024 but processors and retailers should play up its value and also remind consumers that nothing else compares to the taste of beef. Marketing pork’s strengths – like premium options with flavorful marbling – can help pork to gain share in the meat case and convert meat eaters into pork lovers. Plant-based meats have lost their edge, but it’s still too early to tell how much cell-based meats will give traditional meat a run for its money.
1 USDA, Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, October 2023
4. Convenience: It’s no longer a “nice to have”
In a world where we can stream any content we want on any device at any time AND have whatever we want to eat delivered right to our front door, convenience has become ingrained in our culture. So it’s not surprising that the number of consumers who say they frequently purchase value added meat has more than tripled since 2016. Last year, value added sales for beef alone grew more than 25% since 2019.1
Some consumers are also willing to ante up to simplify their meals. In Midan’s latest Meat Consumer Segmentation research, 29% of meat consumers said any meat product that saves them time is worth paying extra for. For two specific meat consumer segments, the need for convenience is a defining factor: 69% of Connected Trendsetters say they rely on convenient meat products and Convenience Cravers over index on both feeling like meat takes too long to prepare for an everyday meal and that it’s hard to cook meat perfectly.2
Convenience also plays a part in where and how consumers shop. Thirty-seven percent of meat consumers report ever purchasing meat or poultry online. In the last three months, one-third (33%) purchased meat using an online method. The most popular of these methods is purchasing online for local delivery or pickup, such as using an app and curbside delivery.2
TAKEAWAY: Look to case ready products to continue to rule the meat case: In 2022, 83% of the meat case was case ready – up from only 66% in 2010.3 Meat companies with an eye on product innovation focused on interesting flavors and cuts can help further entice those willing to put a premium on convenience.
1 Anne-Marie Roerink, Principal, 210 Analytics LLC, The Power of Meat 2023, Report sponsored by Sealed Air Food Care Division/Cryovac® and Published by FMI and the Foundation for Meat & Poultry Research & Education
2 Midan Marketing, Meat Consumer Segmentation 3.0, August 2023
3 Cryovac Brand, 2022 National Meat Case Study
5. Sustainability: Regenerative agriculture is the new frontier
We’ve been talking about sustainability for a while but saw interesting movement in this space in 2023. While the first fresh meat products with carbon claims were hitting meat cases earlier this year, consumers started to lean into a different term – regenerative. The concept of regenerative agriculture – employing farming practices that help preserve soil health and conserve water – is gaining traction. A couple years ago, we were lamenting that the definition of sustainability was so broad it was hard to measure. Regen ag is giving the meat industry a chance to embrace – and talk about – the sustainable practices that help revitalize the earth.
As an example, one regenerative agriculture brand, Force of Nature, has been pushing back against plant-based meat alternatives and it’s working. Popular Texas-based burger chain HopDoddy recently removed a processed plant-based burger from its menu and replaced it with a “regenerative agriculture” burger featuring Force of Nature products. They still offer true veggie burgers, but not a processed faux meat alternative like Impossible or Beyond.
TAKEAWAY: Sustainability is a multilayered initiative whose definition will continue to evolve; right now, regenerative agriculture is what’s getting a lot of buzz within the meat space. For some consumers, simply doing what’s right for the earth, for the animals and for people is the essence of sustainability – and younger consumers like Gen Zs and some Millennials now expect those values to be foundational to a brand. Are you able to incorporate a regenerative ag piece into your sustainability story?
6. Health and Wellness: Evolving diet trends are making room for protein
For several years, we have predicted that health claims would become more personalized. Many of today’s wellness-focused consumers are interested in the specific nutrients they need for their body to feel good or perform in a certain way. Often, this includes protein, which is a major win for fresh meat. A recent “diet” trend hashtagged millions of times online is the “eat what you want, add what you need” approach. So if you’re craving mac and cheese and chocolate, that can totally be your dinner – but you’ll add a lean protein source like chicken and a fiber source like broccoli to ensure you feed your body what it needs. Understanding and communicating where fresh meat falls in this kind of mindful eating approach will become increasingly important.
TAKEAWAY: As the definition of “health” continues to evolve, packer/processors and retailers will need to assess how to communicate the value of meat’s nutritional profile to keep it in the mix for wellness-conscious consumers. Even simple on-pack callouts like “high in protein” remind shoppers what fresh meat offers.
7. Artificial Intelligence: Revolutionizing digital advertising
AI tools took the world by storm in 2023. From the time ChatGPT launched in November 2022 until now, thousands of new tools have been released and millions of people have at least tried them. AI is being used in a few spaces within the fresh meat industry and has lots of potential to be implemented in CPG and retail spaces for demand forecasting, innovation and cost reduction measures.
But what AI has really turned on its head is marketing.
AI can optimize digital ads to a specific audience, interpret campaign data and analytics and provide feedback to improve strategy for future campaigns. This level of customization will be a huge asset for meat industry companies, offering the ability to drill down even further to effectively reach target consumers. AI tools can also be used by marketers to help ideate ads, brainstorm headlines, create outlines and more.
TAKEAWAY: As AI continues to be refined, expect it to not only revolutionize the reach and impact of digital marketing, but also have a dramatic effect on the workforce as companies can now do more with fewer resources (potentially smaller teams and lower budgets). Creative teams can leverage AI to help clients visualize their ideas and flesh out campaign elements. For example, tools like the Generative AI feature in Photoshop give artists the ability to create images that weren’t possible or practical to create before. Don’t have ideal photography in the correct specs for your digital campaign? No problem – AI images can be generated directly within Performance Max campaigns via Google Ads.1
1 Google, Get creative with generative AI in Performance Max, November 7, 2023
8. Shopper Marketing: Leveraging the customer journey
Omnichannel marketing strategies are evolving to focus on shopper marketing. This approach involves targeting shoppers throughout their purchase journey, but particularly at the point of purchase (either in-store or online) with effective campaigns and promotions. Shopper marketing used to be tactics that a brand would work directly with a retailer to offer, but now retailers like Instacart and apps like Ibotta offer additional ways to message shoppers at the point of purchase.
TAKEAWAY: Reaching customers where they are is the name of the game. And while digital advertising is leading the charge, it’s also important to keep in mind that most consumers still shop in a brick-and-mortar store. A recent survey of grocery shoppers revealed that 79% of consumers’ most recent grocery trip was in-store (versus 21% online).1 As always, it requires a deep dive into your specific customer base to determine who they are and how they shop to land on just the right mix of digital and in-person shopper marketing.
1 ShopperScape Grocery Deep Dive, May 2021
9. Social Media Influencers: Transitioning to “creators”
We’ve talked a lot over the last few years about the importance of utilizing social media influencers to help promote your brand or products. Influencers come with a built-in audience with whom they have already established trust. Young consumers like those in Generation Z are particularly averse to traditional advertising, though, and don’t want to feel like they’re being advertised to. To reach these shoppers, influencers are having to lean more into incorporating products into their life instead of simply showcasing the products. This is leading to a movement away from “influencers” toward “creators.” These creators have partnerships with brands and products that they integrate into their daily lives and essentially advertise by always drinking a certain beverage or wearing a certain shoe.
According to a February 2023 study, 81% of consumers reported that social media posts from influencers, friends or family members drove interest in an item or service within the past year. And in that same study, when it came to influencer marketing categories, food and beverage saw the most success in terms of interest and the potential to drive action.1
TAKEAWAY: Brands must continue to re-interpret what “influence” looks like to newer generations. Authenticity drives creator marketing, as audiences seek genuine connections with admired influencers. Brands need to trust creators to showcase products authentically and respect their understanding of their audience. Influencer marketing is also evolving beyond an isolated tactic and brands are seeing the benefit of long-term relationships. Creators can play a crucial role in comprehensive marketing strategies, fostering deeper connections and allowing for consistent messaging across the marketing funnel.
1 Marketing Dive, 81% of consumers embraced influencer marketing in the past year, study finds, February 23, 2023
10. Social Shopping: Capturing consumers where they are (on social media, of course)
Social shopping, currently experiencing exponential growth with a projected $3.37 trillion in sales by 2028, represents a transformative shift in retail, converging e-Commerce with social media to create a dynamic community-driven buying experience.1 In recent years, social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok have introduced sales platforms that allow influencers (or creators) to link the actual products they are using to their social storefront, where they earn a commission for each sale generated.
Product tagging on these platforms also allows businesses to tag their products in posts, making them shoppable directly from the platform. For a fresh meat company, incorporating product tagging on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram is a game-changer. This feature transforms static posts into interactive, shoppable experiences for customers. By tagging their premium cuts, specialty products and seasonal offerings, a company not only elevates its social media presence but also creates a direct pathway for customers to explore and purchase their products with just a few taps. This seamless integration enhances the customer journey, turning social media engagement into tangible sales and fostering a dynamic, convenient shopping experience for meat enthusiasts. Additionally, the insights provided by the platforms enable the company to understand customer preferences, optimize marketing strategies and stay ahead in the competitive fresh meat market.
Content creators and influencers further amplify these advantages by authentically showcasing products, fostering engagement and creating a dynamic narrative around the brand. With product tagging, the brand not only enhances its social media presence but also establishes a direct link between captivating content and tangible sales, ultimately driving growth, loyalty and a memorable customer experience.
TAKEAWAY: Currently about a third of online shoppers buy products directly on a social media platform.2 As the industry matures, businesses of all sizes will need to embrace social commerce to stay competitive. As social shopping becomes a cornerstone of e-Commerce strategies, brands can seize this opportunity to engage with audiences innovatively and explore diverse revenue streams in this evolving landscape.
1 Influencer Marketing Hub, The State of Social Shopping in 2024, October 25, 2023
2 Statista, Percentage of online consumers buying from social networks in selected countries worldwide in 2022, August 2022
We hope our Top Trends To Watch list provided helpful takeaways about the topics and issues that should be on your radar next year. To get industry insights from the Midan team throughout 2024, subscribe to our meat industry email here.