WHEN it comes to what it driving purchase decisions around beef, should the goal be purely to understand consumer demands and meet them?
Or is there room to actually create, or at least guide, demand?
Calls are starting to emerge, particularly from the producer end of the supply chain, around the viability of changing tack when it comes to responding to consumer demands around hormone growth promotants.
The argument stems from the sizable production benefits - faster weight gain with good feed and more efficient feed conversion being the big two - coupled with the fact endless evaluations of public health risks have shown hormone levels in meat from treated stock are well within normal and indeed below that in other foods.
Mining consumer insights with the view to targeting emerging demands has for some time now been touted as the way forward for Australia’s beef industry in a world of increasingly intense competition from competitors with lower costs of production.
The industry’s big research, development and marketing provider Meat and Livestock Australia is investing record sums into consumer research and market segmentation.
Outgoing managing director Richard Norton’s “consumer is king” philosophy has gained enormous traction.
However, just what that strategy means was put under the spotlight to a degree at this year’s industry forums held around the MLA annual general meeting in Canberra last month.
Audience question time in a marketing session saw MLA drilled on whether there was potential to counter the negative perceptions that exist about HGPs.
Why have there been no efforts to lay the scientific facts on the table, to open the conversation about HGPs up, rather than just accept what is arguably an irrational consumer demand?
MLA’s top marketing and communications talent Lisa Sharp suggested it would be very difficult to turn back the tide of consumer perception on this one.
“I firmly believe there is only one person putting money into the value chain - the consumer,” she said.
The idea of ‘natural’ was a major trend driving consumer food purchases, she said.
“Rightly or wrongly, what we are seeing in our work is that ‘natural’ means no HGPs when it comes to red meat,” Ms Sharp said.
“And retailers are responding to that.’
Weight of evidence means little in the art of marketing, it seems.
“You can present all the science on the benefits of HGPs but the reality is, if it’s linked to productivity gain, the consumer is not interested,” Ms Sharp said.
“They care about what they put in their bodies and they don’t like the idea of a growth promotant.
“Whether its rational or irrational, it's certainly the consumer perception.”