CONVINCING the big airline Virgin Australia to stand alone against its global company policy of reducing beef servings is just one of the big behind-the-scenes marketing wins Australia's red meat industry has notched up.
There are plenty going on. Collecting critical consumer insights from shopper research conducted via virtual reality and tapping into the fast-growing popularity of pre-made meals are others.
The domestic market is the largest and most valuable destination for Australian beef and lamb and was the topic of an entertaining forum at Red Meat 2019 in Tamworth this morning.
Meat & Livestock Australia marketing experts and a successful branded beef owner delved into the changing demography and competitive pressures on home shelves and what's needed to capture the fast-changing demand.
MLA's Graeme Yardy, in response to a question about corporate interactions with Virgin given its founder Richard Branson's decision not to eat meat and to drop beef on many flights, said work in this space was a major win for the Australian industry.
"We had enough evidence to go to Virgin Australia and say this is what the Australian industry is doing," he said, in reference to the significant reductions in emissions achieved.
"We were able to show the industry is leading the way and has a pathway to carbon neutrality which no other red meat supplier could say."
That turned the tide, Mr Yardy said.
"It built a solid case for Virgin Australia to stand alone from its global operations and go against the decision," he said.
"We can be a shining light for them and say you have to put a stake in the ground and harness the energy and spirit of the people who make up your industry and you can make a difference."
Mr Yardy said the industry had to ensure it continued to the tell the story and engage with Virgin - the conversation would be ongoing.
"Airlines are hyper sensitive to environment conversations because they are at forefront of emissions," he said.
How people shop meat
Mr Yardy also outlined the key insights from a world-first in shopper research employed by MLA this year - employing immersive technology to track how people shop the fresh meat sections of supermarkets.
Shoppers used goggles to explore a Coles store built in virtual reality where they could pick up products, turn them over and put them in a virtual trolley.
"When people go into research situations there are a whole lot of biases going on, and people are also great at post-rationalising decisions," Mr Yardy explained.
"This was a way of observing behaviour in the field.
"There were some interesting outtakes and this work is informing our strategy in supermarkets."
A key finding was that most people are in what is known as 'system one thinking' or auto-pilot when they walk down the supermarket aisles.
"Mostly they buy what they have every other time. It's very routine," Mr Yardy said.
"The opportunity to break that is something we have to work hard on.
"We also saw many instances where shoppers went to buy one thing but ended up with another."
The work will help red meat marketers put in place micro-strategies like labeling and placement on shelves which can add up to growth opportunities for their products.
"This is a category worth billions to retailers so they're very interested in small opportunities to generate growth," Mr Yardy said.
The cutting-edge work also allowed researchers to follow the retinas of shoppers, or 'eye track'.
It showed lamb is not noticed as much as other meat offerings.
It also showed that mince is shopped by almost every household, and very frequently, and that products surrounding mince are therefore selected more.
"There are things we can do to influence where products are on shelf, so these lessons are very valuable," Mr Yardy said.
Chief executive officer of successful branded beef operation Jim's Jerky, Emily Pullen, outlined how her family operation was tapping into the red meat snacking market.
Beef was being viewed far more broadly than ever before, she said.
Her parents, Jim and Cathie Tanner, were originally graziers with a Droughtmaster stud and small feedlot, contracting to Woolworths, which was how they started to understand more about what it was the end user sought, Ms Pullen said.
In 2004, after selling their operation, they started manufacturing beef jerky.
At the first field day Cathie attended, where a friend allowed her a corner of her stand, $400 worth of Jim's Jerky was sold.
Sample, sample, sample was the lesson, Ms Pullen said.
"At our first Ekka people were asking 'what do you do with it, do you chew it and spit it out?' but around five years ago we began to notice a change - people stopped asked what jerky was for," she said.
"We recognised we were in a growth sector. People were starting to snack differently. Jerky is not the cheapest snack so we had to let them know the premium was worth it."
Jim's Jerky made the decision to become a wholesaler and while today the business partners with Coles and Woolworths, and a national distributor to service stations, the family continues to attend field days to offer samples all over the country.
"In order to truly grow you have to understand the consumer," Ms Pullen said.
"Consumers want to know our story - Jim talks for hours about the raw product we use."
Protein snacking was still an immature market, Ms Pullen said.
Last year, sales of snack products with the word protein grew by 22pc.
"In the US, 14pc of snacks are beef. In Australia we're around 2pc," she said.
"We have the number one protein. Protein balls and bars contain 35pc sugar.
"Better-for-you snacking is good Australian beef in a jerky pack."