Consumer Perceptions By Michael Uetz
Michael Uetz is a managing principal in the Chicago office of Midan Marketing where he oversees the work of the market research team.

The meat industry could take a page out of baseball’s book

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

Another World Series is complete. While my Chicago Cubs weren’t in it this year, I always love the Series when we watch two great organizations come together to show how well they play as a team. It takes some very talented individuals who decide they want to work together to win. Their strength is in their collaboration.

I think it’s time the meat industry took a page out of baseball’s playbook.

Recently the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) announced that they are making environmental impact a non-competitive issue, encouraging member companies to share sustainability best practices with each other.

This approach to collaborating for the common good is powerful. Like the teamwork of a World Series baseball team, wouldn’t an industry-wide voice be more powerful than the voices of individual companies or organizations? Are there key industry issues (think animal welfare, food safety, regenerative agriculture, transparency in operations, traceability) that impact us all that we can agree to work on together?

I believe we would be better served by a unified consumer messaging platform that would enable us to lead the narrative on these topics, rather than allow industry detractors to hijack the conversation with misleading commentary.

There are activist groups like PETA and HSUS who have been out to get our industry long before I started working in it in 1992. But it’s getting worse. As I’ve spent time tracking alternative proteins and cultured meat companies, the negative meat industry messaging is getting even louder.

There are a lot of very smart people with scientific credibility and big dollars who are developing products that, in some cases, are being positioned to serve as meat replacements that could help eliminate naturally raised animal protein as a protein source in the future. One of the most vocal is Pat Brown, founder of Impossible Foods Inc., whose company’s stated goal is to “replace animals as a ‘food technology‘ by 2035.”

I’ve always contended that meat protein offers much more nutritional value to the human diet than we are taking credit for. Beef, for example, is classified as an excellent natural source of protein and zinc, and a good source of iron and B-vitamins.

When was the last time you saw protein or any of these other nutrients called out boldly on a package of fresh meat or at the meat case?  I picked up a package of beef at my local grocery store the other day to take a picture of it to make just this point for a presentation I was working on. The nutrient content of the cut was only displayed in very small print on the price label.

Meanwhile products like breakfast bars, cereals, potato chips, breads and yogurts are proclaiming in big bold letters the grams of PROTEIN they offer. How many consumers actually know the nutritional value of our meat products? Isn’t this information important enough that we as an industry should make certain our consumers know it’s one of meat’s greatest natural assets?  

It is my opinion that an industry-wide communications initiative would be a powerful platform to educate consumers on the nutritional value of beef and other meat proteins. Collaborating on a unified messaging campaign aimed at arming consumers with nutrition facts would go a long way in helping to drown out the negative dialogue that activists have been spewing, plus be much more effective and cost efficient than our individual efforts as we reactively attempt to correct the negative messaging from our detractors.

I agree with NAMI’s approach to making certain industry initiatives non-competitive to encourage us to work on them collaboratively. Other trade associations like the Food Marketing Institute and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have similar initiatives within their memberships. However, there is also tremendous power in a coalition of industry-wide thought leaders who come together to work on the industry’s behalf to identify key initiatives, craft messaging and leverage national media platforms to reach consumers.

This effort would require an investment on all our parts to make it happen effectively, but I believe it could generate a very high return on investment for all of us.

What are your thoughts about an industry-wide communication platform on key issues like nutrition, animal welfare efforts, food safety and environmental impact?  I’d like to hear your comments.


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