Consumer survey: Sustainability as important as welfare

Environmental sustainability continues to grow in importance with people all over the world. Animal agriculture should take notice.

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(Andrey Armyagov | Bigstock)
(Andrey Armyagov | Bigstock)

Environmental sustainability continues to grow in importance with people all over the world. Animal agriculture should take notice. After all, we only have one planet and agriculture punches above its weight when it comes to caring for the environment.

In the past years, we’ve seen our share of dire predictions about the coming cataclysm of climate change. Now, regular people are taking notice and are doing what they think will help avert the worst possible outcomes.

With this in mind, the National Chicken Council recently conducted a consumer study to gauge how consumers view the sustainability of the chicken industry as well as the importance of sustainability in their buying decisions. The study was conducted via online survey in January 2019 and the results were published in May 2019.

Key findings

The survey revealed four key points:

1. Environmental impact is just as important as animal welfare when it comes to buying: While neither topic was rated as the most important buying factor, the environmental impact of chicken and animal welfare were ranked either extremely important or very important by 34% and 37%, respectively, of the buying public. Notably, 54% of those in the survey group rated as food evangelists – people who are particularly influential about food-related topics who regularly share their opinions related to agriculture practices – said environmental impact was extremely or very important to them. This shows, the report said, that environmental impact will only grow in importance to shoppers in the future.

2. People don’t understand the environmental impact of the chicken industry: Knowledge of the chicken industry’s impact on issues like water usage, greenhouse gas emissions and water contamination/clean water impact is relatively low, with less than a quarter of the survey group saying they were familiar with the chicken industry’s impact on those subjects.

3. Consumers view chicken as having the nearly same environmental impact as beef and pork: A majority of consumers (66%) said that chicken production has at least a moderate environmental impact. That’s less than pork (68%) and beef (71%) but shows most people aren’t familiar with chicken’s sustainability story.

4. People would eat more chicken if they knew it was more sustainable than other proteins: The survey found 49% of respondents said they would buy more chicken if they learned that it was more sustainable than other meats or meat substitutes. What’s more, 45% said they would eat more chicken if they found out that chicken production has become more sustainable in response to consumer demand.

What it means for the industry

This should be seen as very good news for the chicken industry. Chicken is a more sustainable animal protein than beef, pork and lamb in terms of its impact on land and water usage as well as greenhouse gas emissions. This is a fact that needs to be celebrated and used as a selling point. More education and marketing focused on this attribute can help spread the good news to shoppers. However, caution must be exercised as to avoid defaming other species in animal agriculture in order to promote chicken.

Moreover, this shows the industry is doing the right thing in producing more meat with less feed and less water. These results were achieved through steady technological innovation in housing, feeding and husbandry as well as constant genetic progress. Today we have a bird that grows larger, faster, which is a net benefit for the world.

This progress must be protected however. Rising threats from both mainstream and fringe animal welfare activists pressure the chicken industry to roll back the clock toward less efficient, and less sustainable, methods.

Get more consumer insights at the 2019 Chicken Marketing Summit

The results of the annual Chicken Consumption Survey will be revealed by Chris DuBois, senior vice president and principal, IRI, and Joyce Neth, vice president, director of audience development and research, WATT Global Media, in a presentation at the 2019 Chicken Marketing Summit (CMS), July 21-23, in Charleston, South Carolina. Registration is now open.

The survey, sponsored by the National Chicken Council (NCC), Elanco, Meyn America, WATT Global Media and IRI, questions consumers about the most pressing topics and trends. This year’s survey focuses on what drives consumers’ purchases of protein for “center of the plate” and asked consumers about the new challengers: lab-grown meat and plant-based proteins.

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