Consumers want information about what they are eating, and it’s up to the meat industry to make sure what they are finding is correct and beneficial for the industry.

Art Yerecic, president of Yerecic Label, and Kristin Yerecic, a marketing manager at the Pennsylvania-based product labeling consultancy, offered tips on how to thrive in the digital age during their speech at the Meat Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, on February 21.

Art Yerecic and Kristin Yerecic said the modern consumer is curious about what they are eating and they will use the tools at their disposal to find it. Independent food blogs, social media and popular websites can quickly disseminate misleading or false information about meat. The industry, they said, must do a better job of getting its message online -- or wherever else consumers are -- and replacing harmful innuendo with facts about the value of its products. 

To win consumers, the industry must market meat as a healthy, convenient meal. Companies need to be transparent about the source of their products and use a consistent messaging strategy across media platforms.

Health and wellness

Meat faces two major issues in health and wellness: consumer concern about its health value and other products being sold as high-protein foods.

Art Yerecic said the top reason, besides price, consumers don’t purchase meat is concern that eating meat is unhealthy. While demand for protein is higher than ever, the meat industry is not doing a good enough job of selling meat as the chief source of protein in the grocery store.

Kristin Yerecic said meat must sell itself, both in store and in advertising, as a healthful product with more protein value than non-meat products being sold as a high-protein food. Companies must also take advantage of the opportunity to put graphic and digital content online promoting the importance of meat from protein in a healthy diet. Right now, she said, meat companies aren’t setting the agenda for their products online.

Convenience

Consumers spend an average of 33 minutes preparing their food, about an hour less than they did in 1975. To win over these shoppers, meat must be marketed as a quick and easy meal that can be prepared in a variety of ways.

Now, Art Yerecic said, consumers are choosing more one-dish meals, and fresh meat is now being prepared more as an ingredient than a main dish. The industry has a great opportunity to pair fast, one-dish recipes alongside its products. Selling it that way, he said, is critical to its success in the marketplace.

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Companies and retailers must work together to put those recipes in front of the consumer, whether in-store or online. Art Yerecic pointed to examples of recipes and product websites being attached to QR codes on product labeling. Kristin Yerecic recommended driving consumers to a mobile-friendly, easy-to-use website or application that prominently displays links to recipes. Kristin Yerecic said Unilever N.V.’s Hellmann’s mayonnaise uses an instant messaging service to provide live cooking answers and advice to consumers.

Transparency

While a small segment of consumers, about 8 percent, disagree with the treatment of farm animals enough to reject eating meat, the speakers recommended taking the initiative on addressing animal welfare and other product-sourcing issues.

Art Yerecic recommended choosing labels that identify humane practices and including additional information about animal welfare online. He pointed to the success of companies that directly engage customers who have questions about meat sourcing practices and answer their questions in a public forum like social media. As many as 71 percent of consumers will recommend a company that provides instant responses on social media.

Kristin Yerecic said consumer-facing graphics and videos providing information about meat, livestock and animal welfare are a great opportunity to promote transparency online.

'Omnichannel' promotion

Before meat companies can get this information to consumers, they must put together a cohesive message across media platforms. While print advertisements are still the most influential way to reach shoppers, consumers are going online before and while they are in the store, and retailers should be prepared.

Art Yerecic and Kristin Yerecic recommended going with a mix of traditional advertising – promotions in newspapers and signage in the store – and digital promotion – mobile-connected applications and websites – to win over consumers.

Kristin Yerecic said using QR codes, short links and text message can be a great way to connect physical signage to digital applications and campaigns. She said Twitter hashtags are a way to engage consumers and review consumer-generated content as both feedback and a potential source for advertisements. She said the “omnichannel” marketing can help connect online information about nutrition and animal welfare to consumers in the store.

“The key is making it a consistent message across all different media: product packaging, signage, the circular and all those digital resources have to speak with the same voice,” Art Yerecic said.