MANHATTAN, KANSAS – The producer-funded national Beef Checkoff program has one primary goal: to continuously drive beef demand. To successfully work toward this goal, the Checkoff must first gauge beef’s current status in the protein marketplace by assessing consumer demand, views and preferences for not just beef, but for all proteins, including meat alternatives. That’s when the Checkoff turns to Glynn Tonsor, Ph.D. at Kansas State University and his project, the Meat Demand Monitor (MDM), funded in part by the Beef Checkoff and Pork Checkoff.
A ONE-STOP SHOP
For Dr. Tonsor, curiosity about consumer meat and food demand just comes naturally. While growing up on a hog farm in Missouri, Dr. Tonsor quickly developed an interest in agricultural markets and pursued that interest. Today, Dr. Tonsor is a professor in the Agricultural Economics department at Kansas State University where he also executes and authors the MDM project.
The MDM tracks U.S. consumer perspectives, preferences and demand for meat, analyzing retail and foodservice channels separately. It gathers consumer data via a third-party, monthly, online survey that samples more than 2,000 respondents who represent the national population. Overall, the MDM is a “one-stop shop” for anyone interested in the latest meat demand trends and assessments.
Early on in his career, Dr. Tonsor noticed that cattle producers seemed to lack a solid understanding about the importance of meat demand how it affects the beef industry.
“Producers are used to watching the monthly cattle-on-feed report, reading annual cattle inventory reports and a whole wealth of supply-side monitoring, and all of information is valuable,” he said. “When it comes to beef demand, there’s a lot less parallel information available, and what does exist is pretty lax.”
Dr. Tonsor recognized the issue and information gap, talked to industry professionals, started a partnership with the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, and received approval and funding for the MDM project. In February of 2020, the MDM was officially up and running to increase knowledge about U.S. meat demand and help producers understand its importance.
Because the MDM was functioning before the coronavirus pandemic, the data it’s gathered has proved invaluable, specifically when examining foodservice versus retail insights.
“The main finding would be that, to date, retail beef demand has increased while foodservice peak demand has decreased,” Dr. Tonsor said. “This finding is important, not necessarily surprising, but we’re able to track it. And maybe at some point, we’ll see that being unwound. Hopefully, as 2021 concludes, we’ll start seeing the foodservice sector recover.”
The MDM has collected additional insights on the coronavirus’s impact on meat demand. These have been summarized in three separate COVID-19 special reports. The November report detailed how about one-third of the people surveyed said they would not immediately return to in-restaurant dining even after being vaccinated.
“Asking about a COVID vaccine isn’t in itself a meat demand question,” Dr. Tonsor said. “But when you follow it up with a question like, ‘How will you alter your dining out, sit-down dining and other restaurant behaviors?,’ we’re able to better understand what’s needed to help the eventual recovery of the foodservice segment.”
Analyzing these trends is critical for the Beef Checkoff to judiciously invest producers’ dollars in future projects to reach this new population of “eating-at-home” consumers. It also helps producers themselves better understand what consumers may be thinking about when they’re standing in front of the meat cases at their local grocery stores.
“From the Checkoff’s standpoint, the Meat Demand Monitor offers insight into the consumer’s thoughts during the purchasing process,” said Randall Debler, a cow-calf producer from Alma, Kansas. “Beef producers get asked about what’s important to consumers these days, and the Meat Demand Monitor points us in the directions we need to go, whether that’s animal welfare, antibiotic use or some other topic. The data tells me what need to discuss with the people who are in my personal and professional circles. I can better explain how beef production really works and provide accurate, factual information.”
Beef Checkoff marketing decisions take into account consumers’ protein values. These protein values—taste, freshness, safety, price, nutrition, health, appearance, convenience, hormone and antibiotic-free, animal welfare, traceability and environmental impact—are measured monthly and ranked by the respondent’s priority on the MDM.
Nearly all Checkoff-funded efforts and initiatives address at least one of these protein values, and more often than not, more than one. The MDM allows the Checkoff to continue measuring the relative importance of each protein value.
Every month the MDM results are consistent – taste, freshness and safety are a top priority for consumers.
“Every month, across 2,000 people, those particular protein values show more importance to consumers than things like animal welfare and environmental impact, regardless of what we see in the media,” Dr. Tonsor said. “That doesn’t mean those values don’t matter, but they’re not the core decision driver for meat demand. They matter secondary, but not primary.”
These insights prove the Beef Checkoff should continue to invest in efforts and initiatives that sustain or enhance beef’s taste, freshness and safety.
“Dr. Tonsor’s work is very important with regards to understanding consumer demand,” said Kevin Thielen, executive director of the Kansas Beef Council. “It’s a great example of the Beef Checkoff carrying out baseline research that benefits all beef producers. The beef consumer is constantly changing and having data that tracks this will be very important to keeping beef the top protein choice.”
MAKING INFORMED DECISIONS
As an industry, it’s hard to forecast the future. Often, industry stakeholders look back after the fact and wish there would have been more data available to make more informed decisions.
“I wish I had one or more years of pre-COVID Meat Demand Monitor data,” Dr. Tonsor said. “If I had that, I’d have richer insights on the COVID shocks. I still consider this project a success, and I hope others do too. Overall, it demonstrates that we need to continue to support projects that give us ongoing data and information.”
The Beef Checkoff is proud to partner with USCA and Kansas State University on this research project to grow knowledge about consumer meat demand and its subsequent impact on beef demand.
To view MDM reports, survey instruments and raw data, visit: https://www.agmanager.info/livestock-meat/meat-demand/monthly-meat-demand-monitor-survey-data
Learn more about the Beef Checkoff’s meat demand research as well as the work it continues to fund in other important program areas – and sign up for a complimentary subscription to The Drive newsletter – by visiting http://www.drivingdemandforbeef.com.
ABOUT THE BEEF CHECKOFF:
The Beef Checkoff Program was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. The Checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States may retain up to 50 cents on the dollar and forward the other 50 cents per head to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which administers the national Checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.