Survey: 'Women want to feel good about ... decisions'
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
With changing times in the meat industry and increased pressure on consumers from animal advocacy groups and others, Merck Animal Health wanted to find out how best to communicate with beef consumers.
"It used to be anything allowed through the regulatory process, everybody would just accept it," said Bob Giblin, manager of food industry communications for Merck Animal Health.
That has changed. Consumers are now questioning retailers, restaurants and institutions about how beef is raised and processed and its safety, he said.
The company worked with two marketing firms to find out what consumers think of beef and how to connect with them.
One of the companies, Just Ask a Woman, spoke with 75 consumers, primarily women. Women make 85 percent of food purchases in the U.S.
The other company, the Hartman Group, interviewed 2,800 women and men who buy beef.
"Women want to feel good about their purchasing decisions. Most don't want to feel they're just buying something conventional," said Tracy Chapman, principal at Just Ask A Woman.
Despite unfavorable media, beef has credibility with women, and they are confident of their assessment at the meat case. In addition, the USDA seal is important to them, she said.
"They're not necessarily worried, just a little concerned," she said.
Women are being challenged about what to believe and who to believe, with natural and organic messages muddying their decisions, she said. They want freedom of choice and don't want to hear the negativity without the reasons behind it.
The interviews turned up three main themes: Women want to trust beef, know where it comes from and know it's safe, she said.
They want to know food comes from a rancher who cares for his animals and cares about the product being put on the table and that it is safe and not "cheap."
"They don't want to feel guilty around the dinner table," she said.
The industry needs to rename "conventional" beef "traditional" beef, which evokes a better response. It needs to reinforce that there is a variety of beef choices and every choice is a good choice, Giblin said.
"Overall, we concluded the majority eat traditional beef and are confident of its safety," said Davey McHenry, senior strategic accounts manager with the Hartman Group.
Few of those surveyed purchased natural or organic beef, but they are concerned about hormones and antibiotics, she said.
"We have to speak in their language and first address their personal interest and values before anything else," she said.
That means talking about production practices and technologies. And the message has to come from people consumers consider credible, including ranch families, the firms found.
"When people ask hard questions about beef, the first thing they're concerned about is that we have a connection with them on their values ... that we're concerned about quality, the animals are well cared for, and the economic value" of beef, Giblin said.
Part of the problem is the way the industry talks about beef, he said. The industry needs to talk about steaks, not steers, because that's what's important to consumers.
Sources of information about beef
Traditional media 38%
Word of mouth 30 %
Culinary media 23%
Other Internet sites 20%
Retailer ads and in-store brochures 17%
Social media 10%
None of the above 34%
Influences regarding food safety
Package labels 40%
Food manufacturers 17%
Beef producers 16%
SOURCE: Merck Animal Health