Surveys provide ten-years of insight into changing consumer attitudes about red meat


Jon Condon, BEEF Central (Australia)

November 18, 2020


THROUGH this year’s challenging times, the red meat industry has been able to maintain or grow positive perceptions about its product among consumers, and is starting to hear more positive messages about the industry, an industry webinar was told this afternoon.


The webinar on building resilience through community trust in the red meat industry was part of a series hosted by MLA this month, in the lead up to the industry service delivery company’s online annual general meeting tomorrow.


MLA consumer insights manager Emma Gillingham said MLA had built up a large database on consumer sentiment through annual surveys conducted over the past decade, designed to “understand what Australians really think about the red meat industry.”


“It’s important to put that into context, considering the year we’ve had, with COVID and weather challenges for consumers and producers alike, both at a local and global scale,” she said.


“There’s also been a number of things that are top of mind for consumers – issues that are concerning them today.”


Broadly, these concerns could be placed in one of three buckets – society, the environment and the economy.


“What we’re seeing this year is that concerns about the economy have really overtaken the others – that could be anything from the state of the global or local economy, through to peoples’ personal financial situation,” Ms Gillingham said.


In the context of these challenges faced by consumers, it was important to keep in mind that Australian red meat remained in a very strong position, she said.


“We know that beef and lamb are popular staples on plates across Australia. We know that 95pc of households across Australia buy beef, and 76pc buy lamb, so they are really popular protein choices among consumers.”


Some of the key learnings from MLA’s consumer sentiment research are set out below, designed to understand what the community attitude is towards the red meat industry, and potential concerns that consumers may have.


“Broadly what we see is that Australians have quite a positive perception about the Australian red meat industry,” Ms Gillingham said. “Some 67pc tell us they feel good or very good about the beef industry, and 62pc about the lamb industry.”(see graph)


“The majority have a fairly positive perception, and that trend has been fairly stable over the time we have been tracking it,” she said.


When asked about specifics within the industry, broadly consumers said that Australian cattle and sheep farmers made a positive contribution to society; that beef and lamb were environmentally friendly and sustainable; and that the industry was doing all it could to reduce its impact on the environment.


“Particularly some of these perceptions towards environmental factors have become more positive among Australians this year, compared with last year,” Ms Gillingham said.


What’s also important to note in the above graph was the grey area in the middle, indicating that around one third of Australians did not know, either way, on some of these issues.


“That starts to suggest that many consumers just aren’t very well informed about our industry practises,” Ms Gillingham said.


MLA’s study also sought to find out whether consumers had heard any messages about the industry – either positive, negative, or nothing at all.


“The research suggests around half of consumers say they have heard something positive about the industry, and this year more consumers are telling us they are hearing more about the high standards the industry upholds, and the positive impact it has on the Australian economy,” she said.


The study also sought to understand whether consumers had heard anything negative about the industry.


Only quite a small proportion (around 40pc) had heard something negative, and most of these things they thought they had heard were related to animal welfare or live export.


Ms Gillingham said the study was also used as a gauge of consumers’ perceived knowledge about the industry.


“What this tells us is that only around one in three Australians feel quite knowledgeable about the red meat industry, although this has been increasing over time. But when it comes to specifics such as potential environmental topics within the industry, this is where consumers are much more likely to feel less informed.”


“In some ways, consumers feel they know more, but at the same time less than ever before.”


Most consumers are telling the survey that they do feel it is important to learn more about where their food comes from, and also that it is important for children to learn more about where food comes from.


“There is a desire among some consumers to understand more about these production practices. This is indicated through 44pc of consumers telling us they are interested in learning more about red meat production, and visiting a cattle or a sheep farm. But in reality, relatively few (around 38pc) say they have actually visited a livestock property in the past.”


Understanding consumption ...


Sources of information about food ...


more, including charts [3], infographic