“I don’t see that there has ever been a better time for animal agriculture,” said Nancy Kruse, president of The Kruse Company, while addressing attendees May 8 at the 13th annual Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit.
“Think about it,” said Kruse. “Meatless Monday, has been unsuccessful because students like to have choices. Butter consumption has come back up 24% in the past decade. Egg dishes and fried chicken are ‘real food’ and they are booming. Butchers have become rock stars.”
That’s all great news for animal agriculture and for the producers that raise animals for food. However, the promising news for innovators in the food industry was not to be overshadowed by some of the challenges, namely the difficulties that agriculture has in communicating on issues that matter to millennial, and other, consumers.
One of the issues discussed throughout the summit was about agriculture’s impact on the environment. The key to sustainability, according to Jason Clay, of the World Wildlife Fund U.S., is optimization.
“Set up programs to help farmers achieve sustainability,” said Clay. “Switch from a practice-based approach; it isn’t about changing your practices, it’s about the result.”
Time and again, panelists grappled with the complex issues and how to communicate all the efforts already underway in terms of sustainability and other industrywide improvement efforts.
“The way to engage millennials is to be optimistic about what we’re doing,” said Aidan Connolly, of Alltech, another panelist on the “Defining Sustainability” panel. “We are feeding people, feeding the world. Engage [consumers] in that conversation.”
Similarly, panelists discussing the “Antibiotics Endgame” panel repeatedly stated that the discussion surrounding antibiotics is about building trust.
“When we look at what is the endgame in antibiotics, it is an opportunity to build stakeholder and consumer trust,” said Joe Forsthoffer of Perdue Farms. “When I was growing up it was Pillsbury and Tang. Mom had a lovely garden and I wanted goop in a tube. Now, consumers are looking for a deeper connection to their food.”
“It’s about providing options. Our antibiotic-free product came from our customer base wanting it,” said John Stika, president of Certified Angus Beef. “There’s a need for choice and a need for transparency -- going forward, how can our industry respond to those choices?”
Many panelists, when discussing hot-button issues, built upon themes presented by the morning sessions’ presenters.
“There’s a lot of noise out there about millennials, who can be trusted, what can be trusted -- they’re trying to scroll through the noise too,” said David Fikes of the Food Marketing Institute. “Be the trusted voice and make sure your words are clearly defined.”
“There is a difference between communicating who you are and what you are trying to do than being preachy and a salesman,” said Dan Kish, head chef at Panera Bread Company and a participant in the Antibiotics Panel. “If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing. You have to put a stake in the ground -- it’s better than sitting back and getting a check for doing the same old same old.”
Though many opinions were shared about the right and wrong way to communicate, with millennials, most panelists agreed that agriculture needs to think differently.
“The definition of quality food is changing, and it’s changing fast,” said Kruse. “See that as an opportunity. Millennials are trending on protein and calorie intake. Take advantage of the ‘protein power.’”