When asking consumers to put price and value aside and think only of what claims they associate with quality, we found that the USDA grades of Prime and Choice garner the top spots with 52% and 47% of consumers, respectively. But near the top, in spots five and six, were NAH and NAE claims, with 41% and 38% of beef consumers, respectively, associating each of these claims with quality.2
Looking at other research Midan has conducted in the past two years, it’s abundantly clear that antibiotics and hormones remain a point of confusion for meat consumers. A big learning from our Natural & Organic Meat Purchasers research from December 2020 was that consumers think all natural and organic meat is also NAH and NAE. While this is true for USDA Organic meats, it is not true of natural meats (though many natural products today are also “never ever”).3
In last summer’s Sustainably Raised Meat Research, we found that consumers are more likely to define meat as being sustainably raised if there is evidence that the animal was treated humanely. Animal welfare, no antibiotics and no added hormones were themes repeated throughout the research.4 This was an unexpected result coming out of sustainability research, which we hypothesized would show more concerns around emissions, waste and water/land use.
And now, our new research on beef claims and attributes confirms that these are important claims for consumers. Part of that research was a MaxDiff (or best-worst) Analysis where consumers were asked to select the claim they deemed most and least important from a short list – this was repeated until they had given input on 28 different claims. When these results were analyzed, NAH and NAE claims both netted out as Tier 1 purchase drivers – or claims that have the strongest influence on consumer purchase decisions. They beat out breed claims like Angus, production claims like grass-fed, and even the package being the size or brand the consumer prefers.2
Three of our recent research studies bear out that antibiotics and added hormones are issues our consumers are grappling with. They care about animal welfare, and these seem to consumers like the claims that do the most to ensure animals are treated well. But on our side of the meat case, we know it isn’t always better animal welfare to withhold antibiotics when needed.
So how do we bridge the knowledge gap between us and our consumers? The meat industry must continue to focus on educating shoppers about the wide range of meat products available and the distinctions between them. This includes ongoing D2C messaging about, and increased transparency into, the processes that keep food animals safe and healthy, to help reduce the stigma around antibiotics.
I’d also like you to consider if there is more of your own story that you can share with your personal network. Putting faces to “factory farms” may reduce consumers’ anxiety around animal welfare. Are you a producer contracted with a major packer? Are you in academia doing research for a major company? Are you a large animal vet who routinely administers antibiotics to food animals? Telling your personal stories can help humanize our industry for consumers.
One insight that can help with this effort: Consumers trust farmers and ranchers. In a recent Gallup survey, it was found that 57% of Americans have a positive view of the farming and agriculture industries in the U.S. – this was behind only the restaurant industry at 60%.5 Connecting individuals along the supply chain to the end product in the meat case can gradually help consumers understand that real humans raise and care for these animals. Slowly, this may help consumers recognize that we have solid animal welfare standards in place for all food animals, regardless if they are NAH or NAE. There is something in the meat case for everyone and continuing to educate and share our stories can help consumers feel good about their choices.
2 Midan Marketing, Beef Attributes Research Study, September 2022
3 Midan Marketing, Natural & Organic Meat Purchasers Research, December 2020
4 Midan Marketing, Sustainably Raised Meat Research, July 2021
5 Gallup, Business and Industry Sector Ratings, September 2022
This content was originally published in the National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s members-only newsletter Paradigm.