To me, some of the most classic images of America are those depicting the Wild West – free, open spaces where cattle speckled every hillside and cowboys ran the show. I conjure a similar mental picture when I think of animal agriculture. Farming and ranching inherently have a thread of Americana running through them; the archetype of the American cowboy and his ideals feel intrinsically linked to the meat industry. Are brands and industries like ours, that have traditionally relied on American values like freedom and independence, trying to walk an awfully thin line right now?
I don’t have an answer to that. But I do have data. Recent research from Midan reveals that, when presented with a list encompassing many, if not most, claims available on beef today, USDA Choice, USDA Prime and Made in the USA are three of the four attributes consumers consider most important.1 Their commonality? The United States. And in pork? The single most important claim a pork package can have, according to consumers, is Made in the USA.2
In March of this year, the Biden administration proposed new requirements to the USDA for the voluntary “Made in the USA” or “Product of the USA” label claim on meat, poultry and egg products. The new ruling would require all parts of the animal production, harvest and processing happen on U.S. soil to be considered a “Product of the USA.” If this rule went into effect, the labeling would still be voluntary, but those products born and raised abroad but processed in the U.S. would no longer be able to carry the label.
With that March proposal, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service released the results of a national survey they conducted about “Product of the USA” labeling claims on meat. Results show that only 16% of consumers identified the correct definition for the current “Product of the USA” claim. It also found though, that consumers are generally willing to pay more for meat products where all production steps take place in the U.S. For ground beef, consumers on average were willing to pay 24% more than the mean product price. For strip steaks, that increase in price was 37% and for pork tenderloin, 41%.3
So – consumers don’t have a great grasp on what the current Product of the USA label means, but the new rule the USDA is currently considering would change the claim to match the predominant consumer understanding of it. We know it’s already one of the most important claims for both beef and pork purchases and that consumers are willing to pay about a quarter more (on the low end) for meat that is fully produced within the U.S.
But how do we celebrate being American-made in our marketing and advertising without potentially inviting criticism?
The World Advertising Research Council (WARC) has thoughts on this. They fielded surveys in 2021 and 2022 focusing on the American cultural landscape and advertising and found that because of our social fragmentation and political divide, advertising messaging can be “easily misinterpreted.” But they also identified values that Americans still share, and that brands can use to authentically connect today in a way that feels American without feeling political4:
- Highlight progress – while Americans may not agree on what progress looks like on a national level, brands can still celebrate personal ambition and commitment to change and inspire through examples of innovation.
- Shape your destiny – the American dream has always been about reaching personal goals. Brands can fuel this by helping people believe in themselves, celebrate the overcoming of challenges, and show how the brand is empowering people on their chosen paths.
- Put in the work – just like the cowboys who worked tirelessly, a strong work ethic is still part of the fabric of America. Highlight the hard work of your employees (from ranchers to truck drivers to meat cutters) and highlight your brand as a well-earned reward for consumers’ hard work.
- Lend a helping hand – in 2022, America was found to be the third most charitable country in the world.5 Showcase this by giving people a way to help their community and show you’re doing the same.
Brands and industries that rely on Americana in their marketing are in a precarious position. Nobody wants to accidentally step into a culture war with their advertising. Finding the right way to weave American values into meat industry messaging can help us all feel a little less apprehensive about creating authentic marketing that resonates with today’s meat consumers.
2 Midan Marketing, Pork Attributes, March 2023
3 USDA, FSIS, Analyzing Consumers’ Value of “Product of the USA” Labeling Claims, November 2022
4 WARC, What it means to be an American today: Seven shared values that can help brands bridge cultural divisiveness, January 2023
5 Charities Aid Foundation, World Giving Index 2022: A global view of giving trends, September 2022