When it comes to meat and poultry, consumers are bringing ethical and safety concerns to the table
The dynamics of the meat and poultry market are changing. For starters, our consumption of these products has fallen. According to the Livestock Marketing Information Center, consumption of meat and poultry in the U.S. declined by about a pound per person in 2010, the fifth decline since 2004, with per capita beef consumption dipping to its lowest level since 1955. Figures from Statistics Canada and the Canadian Meat Council suggest a similar trend in this country.
One reason for the change is the shaky economy, which has consumers cutting what they spend on groceries and other items. But there are further factors at play. For example, outbreaks of foodborne illness such as Listeria and E. coli have some consumers questioning the safety of meat and poultry products. A 2010 Mintel report noted that, in proprietary research on the topic, 63 per cent of respondents indicated worries about the safety of these products. In addition, the study found that red meat carries negative health perceptions for some people, with 48 per cent of respondents saying they believed red meat to be a less healthy, higher-fat option.
Another factor in the changing dynamics of meat and poultry is the growing number of consumers who include ethical considerations in their purchasing decisions — in particular, concerns about the environment and animal welfare. For example, consumers want to know if the meat they’re buying is free of antibiotics and synthetic hormones. Were the animals confined or raised outdoors on healthy pasture? Were they fed quality forage or animal by-products? Was good environmental stewardship practiced from gate to plate? Some of these issues overlap with consumers’ quest for healthy, flavourful food. For example, some maintain that pastured animals produce leaner, tastier meat because they’re less stressed than those raised in confinement.
Less meat, higher quality, more choice
Put these factors together and you have a market in which people are buying less meat, but demanding higher quality and many more choices, including products they perceive as having a cleaner or more ethical provenance, such as natural, antibiotic-free, organic or locally raised. Estimating the size of the market for ethical meat is complicated, because different industry and regulatory bodies define terms like natural, organic and sustainable in different ways. However, the consensus seems to be that, while sales of these products remain a small proportion of the total, they have risen markedly in recent years.