Consumers like sustainable ag companies, but can’t ID them

Consumers want the companies that produce the meat and poultry they eat to be sustainable, but they don’t necessarily know which companies fit that description.

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Eric Mittenthal of the North American Meat Institute talks about conveying messages of sustainability in meat production while at the 2020 International Production & Processing Expo. (Roy Graber)
Eric Mittenthal of the North American Meat Institute talks about conveying messages of sustainability in meat production while at the 2020 International Production & Processing Expo. (Roy Graber)

Consumers want the companies that produce the meat and poultry they eat to be sustainable, but they don’t necessarily know which companies fit that description.

Eric Mittenthal, vice president of sustainability, North American Meat Institute (NAMI) says this is an opportunity for companies within the meat industry to embrace. Mittenthal delivered his message on January 28 during the Animal Agriculture Sustainability Summit at the 2020 International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE), in Atlanta, Georgia.

A changing consumer focus

Mittenthal said there once was a time when the biggest concerns of meat product consumers involved what was better for them. Specifically, he mentioned taste, nutrition and convience.

“These days, that is changing a bit,” Mittenthal said. “It’s not just, ‘what’s in it for me?’”

Now, consumers want food companies to be more concerned about what is good for the greater world.

Defining and identifying sustainability

Sustainable agriculture is a popular term in today’s society. However, Mittenthal said, “Everyone has a different definition of sustainability.”

But most people are not familiar with which companies are practicing sustainability.

“Most people are familiar with the term, (but) if you ask people to name a sustainable product or sustainable company, they can’t do it. People can’t make that connection,” Mittenthal said.

Mittenthal said the meat industry “has a role to play there,” and has a great opportunity to fill that knowledge gap.

Sustainability-minded consumers “want to support products and companies that have the ability to be solutions to worldwide concerns, such as climate change, animal welfare and human rights,” Mittenthal said.

They also want meat companies to be transparent, and to allow opportunities for the consumers to “be part of that larger conversation” and offer feedback.

Sharing a believable story

Meat and poultry companies have long been told that in order to be viewed favorably by consumers, they need to tell their stories. But Mittenthal adds that those stories of sustainability must be believable.

Mittenthal said at a recent NAMI board meeting, one member suggested the industry must “do the right thing, prove it, and tell our story.”

Mittenthal believes most in the industry do the right thing, but don’t always take the extra steps to prove it. But that proof needs to be part of the story.

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