LABORATORY grown protein will serve a purpose in feeding a growing army of lower and middle class consumers around the world looking for affordable protein, Australia’s red meat industry marketing experts believe.
As far as beef and lab-grown meat goes, it’s not going to be one or the other.
We are headed for a world where plant-based, cellular and animal proteins co-exist, says Meat and Livestock Australia’s Lisa Sharp.
Alternatives to real meat has been a subject that has constantly featured in audience questions at red meat conferences throughout 2018 and Ms Sharp, MLA’s chief marketing and communications officer, is often the one answering.
At Red Meat 2018 in Canberra in late November, one audience question honed in on the idea it had almost become a noble cause not to eat meat.
Was the beef industry reacting fast and hard enough?
Ms Sharp said plant based proteins were not new but they had improved in taste and texture and were making some real inroads.
And now beef had another competitor in the way of cellular based proteins.
“As an industry, the first thing we’ve sought to do is understand how our product is defined and the strength of regulations around definitions,” Ms Sharp said.
“Our job is to ensure there are no holes so we protect what we have and ensure consumers are clear what it is they are buying.
“Through this process we have identified some activity in the marketplace, particularly the QSR (quick service restaurant) sector, which is misleading in how plant-based proteins are presented and we are taking that on.”
What the red meat industry had to do in the short to medium term is “understand why these competitors are emerging, what needs are they meeting, whether our products meet those needs and whether we are adequately promoting our benefits to that end,” according to Ms Sharp.
In an earlier presentation at the Australian Lotfeeders’ Association conference in Brisbane, Ms Sharp outlined research showing consumers would pay for attributes they valued.
Globally, the most popular attributes for beef today were quality, safety and natural, she said.
“Demand must lead our business, not supply,” Ms Sharp said.
“Consumers drive demand and we need to understand what influences them.”
The multiple viewpoints about fat highlight the importance of targeting - not only to a particular market but to a channel (retail or food service) and even to an occasion, Ms Sharp explained.
“Take a midweek family meal in Australia - what’s happening for most consumers is they are trying to balance time, cost and health,” she said.
“Our research tells us that typically most people try to be ‘good’ and keep it easy for four out of seven days and will look for leaner and lighter options at those times.
“But there is also recognition that fat adds to the overall sensory experience.
“So when they prepare a Saturday night or Sunday lunch meal that is hearty or gourmet, or when they eat out, marbling becomes more important and in some cases that leads to a demand for more fat.”
Value is more than price and more than functional, rational benefits, consumer insight work is indicating.
For many consumers, a product must also meet emotional needs.
“This is why ethics is part of the quality equation for beef,” Ms Sharp explained.
Ethics-based purchasing has been fuelled by online and social media and is a key driver behind the growth in meat and protein alternatives – particularly the growing appeal of plant-based proteins, she said.
Millennials and baby boomers will be the two largest consumer groups in years ahead and it is millennials who are leading the charge in ethics-based purchasing.
“Alternative proteins will deliver against attributes that are important to those consumers who place greater emphasis on ethics in their purchasing decisions, such as animal welfare,” Ms Sharp said.
“But there is also a significant megatrend towards natural, unadulterated, minimally processed, ‘free-from’ - and that is an advantage for beef.
“We have those strengths in droves and that will be the opportunity.”