Growing up on a beef cattle farm in Georgia, no meal made it to the table without some form of animal protein on it. There was always plenty of ground beef (read: cull cows) from our freezer along with fried chicken and smoked pork BBQ. The only “alternative protein” in our house was ground venison from my Dad’s occasional hunting trip that Mom would sneak into spaghetti or lasagna. I spent the first 18 years of my career in the meat business as a proud global ambassador for the Certified Angus Beef® brand. Today, I’m raising two little boys in Alabama who love smoked tri-tip as much as they love Cheerios and mac and cheese.
Not surprisingly, as a loud and proud voracious carnivore, I have very mixed feelings about the alternative proteins coming onto the market. While I’ll grudgingly admit that we need to co-exist with these new competitors (some of my favorite Millennials are even trying them!), the fact is they are coming after our hard-earned meat consumers. Now, I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal who likes to obsess over my clients rather than my competitors, so I usually don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about what the competition is up to. But we know that these trendy plant-based (and soon cell-based) protein players are pouncing on the 23 percent of current meat eaters who would like to eat a less-meat-oriented diet. * So, how do we as a meat industry fight to keep meat on the plate? I have two tried-and-true answers that play to our strengths and they are precisely the reasons why consumers love meat: taste and nutrition.
First, let’s engage consumers’ senses. Consumers crave the great flavor of a well-marbled steak and bacon’s aroma is irresistible. Our brains are hard-wired for pleasure through taste, smell, sight, sound and touch, so let’s reinvent the modern meat case to be focused on our five senses to delight our consumers. For too long we’ve intimidated consumers with a sea of red. I’ve heard Anne-Marie Roerink (principal and founder of 210 Analytics) preach this annually for the past 10 plus years in her Power of Meat presentation at the Annual Meat Conference. This makes perfect sense, yet very few retailers are going above and beyond to create true experiential marketing opportunities in their meat cases where consumers can smell, taste and hear the sizzle of our great products. When we engage the senses and focus on taste, we win.
Second, we must shout from the rooftops about beef and pork’s nutritional benefits. Believe me, the protein alternative movement is leveraging nutrition as one of its selling points; the meat industry is missing a huge opportunity if we don’t do the same. Beef and pork are Mother Nature’s original “functional foods.” Promoting meat’s essential nutrients is the perfect way to tap into today’s hyper-consciousness about health: consumers want the foods they buy to not only fuel their bodies and give them energy but improve their lives. Ditch the synthetic vitamins and supplements and eat meat! The bottom line is that meat is one of the most nutritionally rich foods that exists, and we must tell and retell this story as the plant-based craze heats up.
It’s not a stretch to imagine that by 2020, the meat case in your neighborhood supermarket will have been converted to a protein case, where your favorite pork chops are merchandised next to plant-based brats, lentils and lab-grown pork chops. This is the innovative and disruptive vision of our competition, so we must work hard to resell consumers on what makes meat so great.
We might not like the influx of protein alternatives, but we can’t deny that we’ll need to treat them like any worthy competitor and up our game. The good news is that the meat industry already has everything it needs to promote its products naturally: taste and nutrition.
Now I’ve got to run… I need to check on the pulled pork simmering in my crockpot.
*Datassential’s 2017 Foodscape, Plant & Cellular Report