Consumers increasingly desire transparency in the meat they buy, but suppliers are having a hard time figuring out how much information is too much, according to The Wall Street Journal. Shoppers want to know where their chicken, beef and pork came from, how it was raised, what it was fed, and more. According to a recent Packaged Facts survey, 58% of consumers say they're more concerned about the treatment of chickens, pigs and other food animals than they were a few years ago.
Industry trade groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are reevaluating how they tell the stories behind meat production. Meanwhile, organizations like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have launched education campaigns aimed at helping shoppers navigate the supermarket.
Many restaurant customers are asking detailed questions about their meat and some are even shown the meat being cut. Restaurant employees are expected to know deep details about the meat and answer any questions the customer may have — including if the animal had a name.
Shoppers have higher expectations for meat transparency these days, but food marketers say meeting this demand is not as simple as it seems. It’s difficult for labeling to be as accurate and transparent as consumers want without turning stomachs or overloading them with information.
Consumers are looking for detailed claims like grass-fed, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, cage-free, local, GMO-free — and the list continues to grow. These claims can impart a great deal of information, but they have a way of piling up on packages and in marketing materials. In addition, claims like "cage-free" have drawn criticism for being too vague or weak from a regulatory standpoint.
In response, suppliers are digging deep to tell their stories and build platforms around transparency. Crowd Cow, an online platform that links independent ranchers to consumers, lets people pick the farm they want their chicken or steak to come from. The platform lets consumers order high-quality meats online and have them delivered directly to them. Crowd Cow isn’t the only farm-to-table service on the market — others include Farm2Fork, Farm to Table, Milk, Butcher Box, and Vital Choice.
Services like Crowd Cow can pressure larger companies to adopt new and innovative transparency measures. The challenge for these companies is to reach consumers in ways that engage rather than overwhelm.
Farmers are expected to adhere to these demands by consumers, and it’s costing them a pretty penny to do so. Those extra dollars are transferring to grocery store prices, but consumers are happy to pay more to buy meat from sustainable operations that raise healthy animals. According to a study by FMI and IRI, shoppers said transparency is important to them when shopping for fresh foods and 30% of them said that antibiotic free, fertilizer free and growth hormone free is crucial when making a purchase.
Overall, fresh foods made up almost one third of all purchases in supermarkets in 2017 and organic meat, poultry, and fish grew by 17.2% in 2017 to $1 billion.
Companies like Tyson are acquiring meat producers that have excelled in the space. Earlier this year, Tyson acquired Tecumseh Poultry, the maker of the well-known Smart Chicken brand. Some brands like Sanderson Farms and Perdue have taken it upon themselves to make a name in the organic meat department but have faced scrutiny. Last year, Sanderson Farms’ All Natural chicken tested positive for ketamine and in May, an advertising watchdog claimed Sanderson’s “happy” chicken commercial was misleading.
As the demand for transparency increases, grocers, restaurants, and big and small meat producers alike will push to meet the demands of consumers while still marketing their products as tasty and convenient.