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Growing Demand for Sustainability: How the Industry Is Responding

Kerry Beauchemin

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Black cattle grazing on a sunset pasture
Conversation about sustainability has been growing for several years among both consumers and investors. Today, there is significant media and societal outcry toward industrial agriculture, the current food system and the impact raising cattle has on the planet. Concerns have only ramped up with environmental activists, scientists, consumers and beloved brands increasingly sounding the alarm.

According to Midan’s new Meat Consumer Segmentation 3.0 research, not only do 57% of meat eaters believe climate change is a serious threat, but half of consumers believe that meat should only come from farms that practice sustainable agriculture.

Consumers want change when it comes to how their food is produced, especially their meat. They are demanding better options and seeking out brands and products from companies that have minimal or reduced impact on the planet. At the same time, consumers are becoming more savvy and better able to navigate complex marketing messages. They want to align themselves with brands that are transparent and honest in their production practices. They want to stay away from brands they feel are greenwashing – making a product, policy or activity seem more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is.

So how are the demands of more concerned and more sophisticated consumers being addressed by the meat industry?

Carbon Labeling

In an effort to provide evidence-based “proof” of their sustainability efforts, companies are finding ways to measure the impact of their product within the supply chain. This is where carbon labeling comes in. Carbon labels give an estimate of the carbon footprint of a product or its greenhouse gas emissions from its creation to its disposal. The first meat products with true carbon labels on them hit shelves earlier this year – a Tyson Fresh Meats/Schweid & Sons co-branded patty utilizing meat from the Brazen™ Beef program. These product labels boast a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions versus conventional beef.

There are already challengers to some carbon claims, though, with the Environmental Working Group petitioning the USDA earlier this year to prohibit meat producers from claiming their beef is “low carbon.”

Measuring Carbon Footprint

We are seeing apps pop up that help consumers take charge of their carbon footprint. For example, the Reewild app in the United Kingdom enables consumers to track their daily/weekly emissions and set goals based on the foods they consume and their contribution to carbon emissions. According to a Compleat Food report, 73% of consumers in the UK deem it important for their food to have a low carbon footprint but felt they didn’t have proper information or guidance pertaining to a product’s footprint and 49% of them said they wanted to see carbon labeling on their foods.

We’ve also seen foodservice companies like Chipotle commit to creating greater transparency in the supply chain. Their Real Foodprint calculator (launched in 2020) measures the average environmental impact across each of their 53 ingredients based on their sourcing standards as compared to conventional ingredients.

Currently, there is no legal requirement or mandate for carbon labeling in the United States. There is, however, a lot of research being done in the area of full life cycle assessments and there are investments being made in developing a measurement framework. Both of these require a huge commitment of time, talent and financial resources.

Within the Meat Industry

As consumers and investors seek to hold the meat industry accountable for its greenhouse gas emissions, several organizations have stepped in to set goals for the industry, help measure impact and report to the public. The United States Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) has set high priority goals and sector targets for the beef industry, including the U.S. beef supply chain achieving climate neutrality by 2040. U.S. Pork, through the Pork Cares initiative, has made sustainability commitments in a number of areas, including a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 (based on a 2015 baseline). The North American Meat Institute’s Protein PACT and its member organizations partner to measure progress toward these goals and report on them, holding the industry as a whole accountable. Resources on reducing climate impact are available from each of these organizations.

Brands and companies that promote a sustainability agenda in their marketing are walking on a precarious tightrope. It’s important to incorporate the steps your brand is taking to be more environmentally friendly, but nobody wants to be called out for greenwashing. Being honest and showcasing the incremental improvements you are making will go a long way. Going forward, we will continue to see brands evolving their sustainability platforms and are also likely to see more products with carbon labeling, more carbon-specific reporting by companies and more opportunities for consumers to “take charge” and manage their own carbon footprint.


About the Author

Kerry Beauchemin is a gifted storyteller with more than 20 years of experience in the advertising and marketing industry. In her role as senior brand strategist at Midan, she brings an uncanny ability to uncover compelling insights, think strategically and predict market trends that help her clients succeed. Kerry has helped clients including BUBBA burger® and Tyson Foods spring to life for both B2B and consumer audiences. Before settling her career in meat marketing, Kerry worked with brands like Suave, Cardinal Health and Universal Pictures. Always down for a good story and authentic connection, Kerry loves to travel and learn about new cultures off the beaten path.
kerry beauchemin