Amstein discusses what drives consumers at KLA Convention

Kansas native Danette Amstein, managing principal at Midan Marketing, headlined the Consumer Trends Forum, sponsored by the Kansas Soybean Commission, at the Dec. 2 Kansas Livestock Association Convention and Trade Show in Wichita, Kansas.

Amstein started out by detailing purchasing patterns of consumers and how they’ve changed since the pandemic. She also gave some ideas on how livestock producers can make sure meat stays front and center.

It’s important to understand what’s happening with consumers, especially since farmers and ranchers happen to be consumers too. Consumers can be divided into five groups as far as their food preferences and purchases go:

• Protein progressives love all proteins especially meat. They’re trendsetters looking to experiment. Increasingly replacing meat and poultry with plant-based proteins. Lead busy lives.

• Family-first food lovers enjoy meat and poultry (with nothing added). Believe grass-fed is better than grain-fed. Love to cook and explore in the kitchen. Mealtime equals togetherness.

• Aging traditionalists have meat at the center of their plate. Prefer convenient meat, not interested in claims. Least likely to explore protein alternatives.

• Convenience chasers look for convenience first. Little interest in claims or health. Price-conscious, coupon and promo-seekers.

• Wellness divas are trying to eliminate meat from the diet and prefer chicken and plant-based proteins. Extreme claim seekers. Very health- and wellness-focused.

Midan did some research in 2019 and came up with the five groups. In 2019 the biggest group was the convenience chasers followed by the traditionalists and family first food lovers. The smallest was the wellness divas.

“Then the pandemic hit and the world got turned upside down,” she said. “Well, we have a sense that this pie probably could change shape and the consumers were thinking differently and reacting behaviors towards meat because we’re different now too.”

By September 2020, convenience chasers reached 39%, protein progressives 20%, 18% family first food lovers, 16% aging traditionalists and 8% wellness divas.

“As I think about this, the protein progressives, they’re still looking for protein. They’re still looking for adventure, and more people were in that boat,” she said. “And then the convenience chasers grew for a couple of reasons.”

In September 2020, people were sending kids back to school at home. With Mom and Dad both working at home and teaching their kids at home, many had to just get a meal on the table.

By March of 2021, 57% of consumers purchased meat or chicken online.

“This is an important statistic and one of the biggest things we saw during the pandemic,” she said. “Coupled with this—because people didn’t like to have other people buy their meat.”

The trend for online shopping was “going gangbusters” before the pandemic, with one exception—meat.

“I’ll order all my groceries online ordering through Instacart. I might order through Amazon,” she said. “But I’m going to go into the store and pick up my (meat) package and look at it and make the decision on which one I want.”

Consumers want a choice when it comes to meat, and online forced them to give up that privilege. And many ended up liking having someone choose their meat for them, especially if they do a good job of it.

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“There’s a lot of resistance at the beginning, but now we see half of consumers are continuing to do that a year later,” Amstein said. “That has opened up a whole other way for us to get our product to consumers. That is incredibly important as we move forward.”

Consumers were experimenting with new ways to cook things at home, 59% at this time. In 2020, air fryers and deep freezers were big purchases for many. Amstein said the average mom knows how to cook 5 things really well, and if she’s considered a “really good cook” it’s 7.

Consumers are still cooking at home. Pre-pandemic it was right at 50%.

As consumers gained confidence they were willing to try different things when it came to food. Many trusted their abilities enough to put meat dishes on the table and feel good about them.

“Another win for the beef industry,” Amstein said.

From this another win came—the prime meat that went from the restaurants shut down by the pandemic went to those consumers confident in their skills.

“Prime sales at grocery stores went up 55% last year,” she said. “Restaurants started opening up and the prime sales declined this year? No, they’re continuing to grow.”

Amstein said this was because people were stuck at home and couldn’t go to restaurants, go on vacation and decided to spend that money on really good meat.

Consumer angle

Online purchases have become something that is impacting protein sales, and it’s a good thing for livestock producers. E-commerce has started to open a whole new world to us, Amstein said, whether they’re buying it directly from the source or as an ingredient in a meal kit or directly from the grocery store. Consumers demand to know more about how animals are raised.

“Why we’re doing what we’re doing,” she said. “So they can feel good about making purchases.”

Amstein said there’s four different platforms she uses when talking about how consumers are thinking about and their expectations are when it comes to meat. Those platforms are: health and wellness, e-commerce, new technologies and sustainability.

“It really all bubbles up to one keyword with consumers, and that is trust,” she said. “We don’t have that. If you don’t put that at the top of your list as the single most important purchasing decision that consumers make, then we’re not going to make it here.”

There’s always a lot of talk about how vegans and vegetarians are taking over the world, and Amstein said they’ve been following this trend for 16 years, and the percentage of consumers who are vegan/vegetarian, lands somewhere between 5 and 7%.

“Don’t worry about the vegetarians and vegans,” she said. “We’re not going to bring them back to meat.”

Then there’s flexatarians, about 19% of consumers fit in this group. They “flex” all over protein and are not committed to getting all their protein from meat.

“They’re going to eat our product and they’re going to eat all sorts of other products as well,” Amstein said. “Now, the thing we need to pay attention to here on this 19% is that it has more than doubled in the last year. So that group is growing really quickly.”

The rest of the population believes meat is part of a healthy diet. They need meat and know its good for them.

There’s a lot of new technologies out there and, in agriculture, it’s on the horizon, just not exactly here yet. Cell-based meat is one of those things, but Amstein believes it will be a reality.

“For some consumers there’s going to be some interest,” she said.

The more familiar they are with it, the more willing they will be to say, “Yeah, I want to try that.” The No. 1 challenge with cell-based meat is consumers think it is more humane.

Plant-based proteins are on the attack and want to take our consumers, Amstein said.

“They’ve tried multiple marketing efforts to make sure that consumers see their products as the best choice,” she said. “They’re quite good at it. I, frankly, think they’re spending a lot of money at it.”

Gene editing is also in this category and that’s when a gene is altered for a specific trait. The animals are eventually harvested for that trait. Amstein points out that topic is also misunderstood by consumers who are misled about the science behind GMOs.

So how do producers gain trust with consumers? It’s really all about transparency. One of the ways to do that is on packaging. Make sure there’s a way to provide a third party neutral endorsement.

Sustainability is a common buzzword right now, but nobody really knows what it means.

“Nobody agrees on what it means whether you’re a consumer or you’re in the industry,” she said. “The one thing I can tell you is that consumers know they should be concerned and they know they should value it, but they don’t know how to put a value on it.”

According to Amstein, most of what consumers know about sustainability comes from large corporations and their efforts to talk about sustainability inside their organizations—often for investors—and sometimes for consumers. Walmart and McDonalds are examples of this effort.

One of the most important messages producers have to take to consumers when it comes to sustainability is—animal welfare. We do not get the credibility to talk about other things outside of sustainability unless consumers are completely comfortable that producers are taking care of the animals.

“Then they’ll listen to us on other things, but without that, they’re not interested in hearing what we have to say,” she said. “This is where we’ve got to start in order to have the credibility to move forward with consumers. It’s going to change how we as an industry need to talk about this.”

Producers telling their story is important, she said.

“Because that is the No. 1 thing we can do to help our young consumers who are on their device all day long,” she said. “Learn about our product and have confidence in this in order to have trust in what we do because ultimately, these folks set our value. they determine what our animals are worth.”

And by making sure they can trust us and making sure they’re comfortable with the products we provide them, is how producers are going to survive.

“So I urge you all to work on telling the stories,” she said. “You’ve got younger generations and don’t always show the good stuff, because then you’re not authentic.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].