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05.26.2020

Meat Processors in the Spotlight: Five Best Practices for Transparency

Michael Uetz
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive, heartbreaking devastation both in the number of lives lost and the number of livelihoods threatened.

The meat industry has been hit especially hard: 67 meat plant workers have died and more than 17,000 have been sickened. In addition to this horrific human cost, COVID-19 has rattled the very infrastructure of the meat channel, with grocers scrambling to stem panic meat buying, meat companies shutting down as workers fall ill, and farmers and ranchers struggling to get their animals processed.

The virus has also created another new reality for those of us in the meat business: The barn doors have been flung open. COVID-19 has resulted in meat processors further pulling back the curtain on their operations to show their employees, public health officials and consumers the measures they are taking to keep their workforce safe and the meat supply moving.

With daily media reports of meat plants closing as workers have gotten sick, it is no surprise that the safety of the meat supply has been top of mind with consumers. An April study by Midan Marketing1 revealed that 74% of meat and chicken consumers have been thinking about the safety of meat and chicken products since COVID-19 began. Of those concerned about food safety due to the virus, 49% listed transmission of COVID from processors/packers/butchers cutting and packaging meat as their top concern.

Nearly 70% of consumers stated they believe that packer/processors are responsible for the safety of the meat they purchase.

Our Midan research shows us that consumers, Millennials in particular, want to know more about where their meat and chicken products come from, and this is the perfect opportunity for “show and tell.”  Take charge of the message and show consumers everything you are doing to maintain a production process that ensures worker safety and delivers a safe product for them to feed to their families.

Here are five best practices to help establish and then maintain this new level of transparency:

  1. Open Your Doors: Consult outside experts. Invite credible third-parties to tour your facilities and meet with plant management to understand what measures are being taken. Officials from the local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can go a long way toward adding credibility to your safety processes. Be as transparent as possible. Consider creating a video tour showcasing the safety measures you have implemented and share it on multiple internal and external channels.
  2. Communicate With Your Employees: Your employees are your most important assets and advocates. Develop an internal campaign that outlines everything you are doing to protect them. Proactively provide workers with clear information regarding your specific safety precautions. Ensure this campaign is executed through a mix of formats, channels and languages.
  3. Inform Your Customers: Let your retail and foodservice customers know the safety protocols you are implementing for team members and products moving through your system. Arm their front-line people with factual talking points to share with consumers to help alleviate concerns and prevent misinformation from being shared.
  4. Tell Your Story from Many Different Angles: Invite visitors who tour your plant (#1 above) to talk freely about the measures they witnessed when in the plant.  Highlight employees talking about these measures. Share measures broadly in the communities where you have facilities to provide reassurance.  Ask customers and vendors to share their experiences.
  5. Utilize Multiple Platforms and Multiple Languages to Communicate: In the world of mobile devices, we consume information differently.  Be sure you are utilizing multiple channels from local radio and TV to streaming apps to social platforms to ensure your message is heard.  These should be done in multiple languages as well so that team members can hear/see and easily share the information with their friends and families.

For the first time ever, processor websites and social media channels are featuring photos and videos of the inside of their meat plants. This transparency started with COVID-19, but it can’t end there – we must fully embrace it to safeguard the trust our consumers place in us and our meat products now and in the future.

1Midan Marketing, COVID-19 Study #2, April 2020, 855 meat and chicken consumers

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About the Author

Michael is a Managing Principal in our Chicago office. Along with Danette, he is responsible for establishing and maintaining Midan’s vision and strategic direction and works with meat industry partners to effectively outline business strategies and tactics to help them realize their marketing and operations goals. Michael’s long-term connection with the meat industry started on his family’s ranch in North Dakota and blossomed during his time at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, where he met a co-worker named Danette. As a guest speaker, industry committee member and writer of social content posts, Michael has become a respected thought leader in the meat industry. When he isn’t meeting with our partners, chances are he’s riding a horse in cutting competitions or on a cattle drive in the Badlands. He also enjoys working out, watching movies, reading and spending time with family and friends.
Michael Uetz