[INTERVIEW] Consumer-Facing Meat Industry Needs to Hone Communication Skills - World Nutrition Forum 2016

Prof. David Hughes, Imperial College London

During the BIOMIN World Nutrition Forum 2016 in Vancouver, Canada, Prof. Hughes spoke about the unprecedented challenges and opportunities driving the global animal protein economy. Feedinfo News Service spoke to Prof. Hughes about the more communicational aspects of the job ahead.

[Feedinfo News Service] Prof. Hughes, you say that for most consumers in developed countries, product safety is a minimum requirement for which they generally will not pay a premium. In which ways is this problematic for the industry?

[David Hughes] We know that some will pay for great taste, convenience, or other lifestyle requirements—but not safety. The same is true for sustainability—they demonstrate little willingness to pay more. Consumers increasingly expect food producers to respond to their emerging social concerns about the growing, processing and selling of food in a socially-responsible manner. There is no premium to be earned for doing so but there is certainly a discount if consumer wishes are ignored! In short, the “green bar” is going up and the challenge for the food industry is to meet, indeed, exceed consumer expectations and thereby earn their longer-term loyalty.

It’s crucial not to equate unwillingness to pay with not being important. In some emerging countries, food safety is a huge issue and there is pervasive concern about the integrity of food supply chains. Consumers in emerging markets seek greater quantities of more affordable milk, fish and meat—this is the engine for buoyant demand for animal-derived protein globally.

[Feedinfo News Service] Should animal protein producers using innovative technologies that improve food production efficiency be communicating better to the consumer?

[David Hughes] The challenges facing the industry —particularly the polarization of demand relating to differing requirements of developed and emerging market consumers— are a clear sign that, while changes are needed, they must be accompanied by better communications about how food is produced. There is a need to increase the knowledge level of the average consumer, and if we as an industry do not do it, then others such as special interest groups will.

[Feedinfo News Service] How do you increase the knowledge level of the average consumer?

[David Hughes] One example is UK retailer Waitrose, who decided to broadcast live, real-time footage of its dairy operation in TV spots and train terminals to highlight its sourcing policy. So social media can play a role. Brands communicate value through stories: how a product is manufactured, source of origin, sustainability practices, etc. It’s up to the industry to work out what people value, then convey that value effectively.

[Feedinfo News Service] You argue that in mature developed markets, meat will face increasing pressure from non-meat proteins which will be capable of competing on taste, price and their “green” credentials. How do you see this trend evolving?

[David Hughes] In the future, all meats will have to keep a keen eye on the emerging meat analogues (faux meats) that seem to be establishing a toehold in, particularly, developed markets. Their much-improved taste and “mouth-feel” similar to meat plus perceived environmental credentials may well portend a bright future and a serious competitor to “real” meat!

[Feedinfo News Service] What are you main recommendations to the global meat industry in its gradual shift from a production-orientated/supply-driven to a consumer-facing/friendly meal and snack solution provider?

[David Hughes] The meat industry overall is firmly on the side of the spectrum and must learn quickly from the best consumer-driven fast moving consumer goods companies on how to meet and exceed consumer expectations for safe, tasty, nutritious and exciting food products.

The more intangible, credence attributes promised that command a premium price, the more likely there will be food fraud. This will be threatening and, potentially, very damaging for brand owners.

Chicken, pork, beef, lamb and fish are the commodity nouns with extraordinarily thin margins. It is the adjectives supporting the nouns where the profits lie for the consumer-centric meat business.

All consumers want safer meat with high integrity supply chains and their great preference is to have meat free of antibiotics, hormones and other scary substances irrespective of the scientific rationale for their use.

Building trust with consumers starts with understanding their values relating to meat and, then, aligning the industry’s values with those of consumers.

This interview was first published on www.feedinfo.com.