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A Marketer's Lens By Danette  Amstein
Danette Amstein is a managing principal for Midan Marketing - a full-service agency that solely focuses on supporting the meat industry.

Is the meat industry playing David to alt-protein’s Goliath?

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

I’m not a fan of plant-based “meat” products. So, as a marketer, it pains me to give them marketing credit for convincing people — our consumers — that their product is healthier and better for the environment. When protein becomes anything other than “real meat” in the consumer’s mind, they declare victory.

Laura Zinger, manager of territory sales and host of the Market Digest Podcast at Urner Barry, hit the nail on the head in her recent Meatingplace blog: "Plant-based is crushing the marketing game when it comes to the millennial generation and younger."

It is no secret that the leadership at companies focused solely on alt-protein want nothing more than to eliminate animal agriculture. While their efforts focus on all the major meats, the beef industry seems to be the bigger prize. Or is it just the easiest target? From a marketing perspective, what they consider Goliath — the beef industry — is actually David. There are no national beef brands with volume or marketing budgets significant enough to counterattack the multimillion-dollar budgets being used against us.

Worse yet, while beef brands focus inwardly, exalting the benefits of Beef Brand A vs. Beef Brand B, the alt-protein marketing efforts aim to put doubt in consumers’ minds, questioning whether beef is really healthy or has a negative impact on the environment. Beef Brand B is not the enemy — the misguided influence of the alt-protein companies is. While each alt-protein company has its own marketing efforts, they are consistent in the focus of their overarching message, aiming a giant megaphone at disrupting our consumer base, planting (pun intended) seeds of doubt.

We have concrete answers — yes, beef is healthy and no, the beef industry is not the archenemy of the environment — but these messages are not getting through at the frequency or scale needed to counter the spread of misinformation.

The U.S. beef industry has the Beef Checkoff program, but its $10 million promotional budget isn’t enough to carry the entire industry. Case in point: Impossible Foods spent more than $8.5 million on advertising in Q4 of last year alone.1

Our rivals are also good at using different behavioral principles to their advantage. Let’s start with the mere-exposure effect. You experience it every day: We all develop a preference for things we become familiar with, even when we don’t know anything about them. In the marketing world, this starts by creating consumer awareness of your product. The alt-proteins do this successfully.

Beyond Meat said in its 2019 Annual Report that household penetration was only 3.6%, while unaided brand awareness was 21%2 — a nearly seven-fold difference. The purchase cycle starts with awareness. Awareness leads to interest and interest leads to trial. B2B customers say consumers demand it, then consumers repeat it based on the word of a friend, the news, social media and their own self-perception.

That cycle feeds the second behavioral principle being used by alt-protein companies: the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). FOMO may not be part of your vocabulary, but trust me, millennials and Gen Z know it well. In this context, you “have to” eat alt-proteins to be seen as cool and on-trend, which helps explain its growth among flexitarians.

The alt-protein world knows FOMO will get trial so they are investing accordingly. Again, from the Beyond Meat 2019 Annual Report: “Our selling and marketing expenses are expected to significantly increase, both through a greater focus on marketing and through additions to our sales and marketing organizations domestically and abroad. We expect to continue to significantly expand our marketing efforts to achieve greater brand awareness, accelerate our international expansion initiatives, attract new customers, drive consumer adoption of our products, and increase market penetration…”2

All this creates more buzz. Even in the past year of record-breaking fresh meat sales, alt-proteins’ social share of voice (19%)3 far outpaced their share of dollar sales (0.53%) or pound sales (0.27%).4  The thought of a handful of industrial companies out-marketing the meat industry repulses me. Yet, thanks to venture capitalists helping them fund, fine-tune and amplify their message, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Consider the following research cited in a pro-alt-protein article from the World Resources Institute to get smarter at messaging our consumer — these same findings also apply to real meat.  

So, what do we do? These behavioral methods can work to our advantage, too. To hang onto consumers, we have to get more consistent in our messaging and extremely loud in the B2C space. It would be helpful right now if we had a couple of national beef brands to focus on B2C marketing that consistently message the beef industry’s advances in health, environment and animal welfare — but unfortunately, we don’t have those. We have good messaging and great stories but because we lack one consistent, industry-wide message, it is difficult to mount the proper counterpunch.

If we remain focused on differentiating ourselves from one other, we will continue to cede share of voice to the enemy. It’s time to acknowledge that the new Goliath is gunning for us — and we need to focus our energy on unleashing consistent messaging in order to properly fight back.

We have to mount an army of soldiers, all focused on the same messaging. We have to consistently use messages across all brands to create a bigger megaphone for the industry. We have to continually address the flipside of the alt-protein story, fighting back the doubt, giving consumers the permission they seek to believe in our brands and our products. And, we have to focus our stories on why we do what we do — and what will happen if we don’t. Then share with everyone, everywhere, every day.

Source: Kantar Media, 2020

Beyond Meat 2019 Annual Report,  https://investors.beyondmeat.com/static-files/95cb02fe-a8f2-4ccf-9d36-94e8ab499790

Midan Marketing, Meltwater Social Listening, 52 weeks ending 3/1/2021.

4 Average dollar and pound sales of refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives share of total meat, Anne-Marie Roerink, Principal, 210 Analytics LLC, IRI POS Syndicated Data, MULO, March–September 2020

3/24/2021

 
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