- At the Chicken Marketing Summit 2017, Pilgrim’s Pride president and CEO Bill Lovette said big ag should be concerned about a widening gap between consumer perception of where the food they eat comes from and reality, reports Meating Place. “More than half of U.S. consumers believe that large corporations own farms, when in reality 98% of U.S. farms are family-owned and 88% of those are small family farms,” Lovette said.
- One of the biggest points of contention is that consumers want slow-growing chickens because they believe they’re “healthier.” Lovette explains the reality is that “chickens are hand-selected to grow faster, stronger and healthier than ever.” He says that conversion to slow-growing chickens would mean 35% fewer birds that would cost nearly 50% more due to costs for additional needed feed, water and manure.
- Lovette also advocated for better and more transparent communications with consumers, citing the “no antibiotics ever” claim verified by USDA as a best practice example of a simplified message. “It leaves no question in the consumer’s mind as to what it is,” Lovette said.
Misconceptions about poultry are driving controversial videos and some impassioned consumer movements. The CEO of poultry company Pilgrim’s Pride has taken a stance, saying the entire big ag industry must reduce the divide between consumer perception and reality by doing a better job educating consumers about how food actually gets on their plates.
The real questions become: Aside from what’s presumably a rather small number of consumer advocacy groups, are the American masses really concerned about the issues Lovette discusses? Most likely the top priority for a majority of consumers is how much their chicken costs when they go to the supermarket.
Despite the specificity of chicken farming, the crux of the issues extend beyond the poultry and agriculture industries. Lovette's push to “lift the curtain” on food goes beyond just him. Studies show consumers want and expect increased transparency about the foods they buy. A 2016 Label Insight study found 94% of consumers said they’d be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency, and four out of 10 people said they would switch to a new brand if it offered full-product transparency.
If consumers would go as far as to switch brands based on transparency alone, manufacturers that remain more secretive about their products could see their market share deteriorate in the coming years.
There will always be a certain group of consumers who remain ready to question everything they don’t believe despite the industry's best efforts. While companies may face an uphill climb, it’s in the best interest of food manufacturers to do their best job to educate consumers about the truth in processing and manufacturing.