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2019 Banff Pork Seminar

David Hughes: Consumers demand more from meat

Date posted: January 10, 2019

David Hughes

The first day of Banff Pork Seminar 2019 kicked off with an energetic and informative presentation by David Hughes, Emeritus Professor of Food Marketing at Imperial College London, and Visiting Professor at the Royal Agricultural University, U.K. The topic, "Global Food Industry Developments - Implications for the Pork Industry in Canada," took a hard look at food trends from around the world, demand for all kinds of protein in diverse forms and where the opportunities lie.

Most western or developing countries have experienced static or declining per capita meat consumption, with the exception of the United States. But Hughes sees the major battleground in meat protein taking place between chicken and fish, as consumers develop a preference for white meats.

Hughes looks at meat consumption on a continuum. He believes that while the number of vegans or vegetarians grows, the confirmed meat eaters will remain, and possibly look at higher-end cuts of meat. The middle is where it gets interesting with "flexitarians" people looking for good sources of protein who are willing to have a mix of plant and animal proteins.

In the UK, Hughes sees numerous examples of catering to this group in items such as pork or beef sausages and patties being mixed with haricot or red kidney beans. These consumers are making choices for health reasons, perceived benefits for the environment and animal welfare. Flexitarians are often women between the ages of 25 and 35 and have relatively high incomes. "Not only will we see more vegan and vegetarian options, but products like pizzas, lasagnas and pies will replace a proportion of the meat with plants," says Hughes.

Faux meat is also a growing trend, with large food companies investing in this product line. He points to Quorn as a case in point. The UK product mimics chicken and was recently purchased by a large Philippine company to serve the Asian market. "In my mind Quorn will be the first billion dollar global brand of fake meat," says Hughes. Today in UK grocery stores, Quorn has more space in the meat case than any meat protein. "There is a tsunami of veg protein on English shelves and other countries, like Iceland, are following suit."

Additionally, the growing world demand for protein isn't only focused on meat. Hughes terms it "the retreat from meat" and dairy, plant and alternate protein sources such as algae and insects are gaining traction. Animal activists aren't the only ones driving this shift. Mainstream media such as The Economist and McLean's are focusing on alternatives to meat proteins. There is increasing social pressure on consumers to ask about where their food comes from, and how it was made.

Younger, more affluent consumers are driving this shift. Marketing initiatives need to look at new criteria when speaking to the public- the traditional four Ps of Product, Price, Place and Promotion have changed to Purpose, Pride, Partnership, Protection and Personalization. These criteria encompass consumer needs for shared values, a pride of purchase, building a relationship, safe and responsible products, and products that meet their specific needs. "I want to eat food that's good for me and my family and that I feel good about eating," says Hughes of today's consumers.

And they want all of that right now. These needs are consistent around the world. "Striking to me is the extent that global trends are driven and converging through social media...I am seeing young people in China with similar views to their counterparts in the US," says Hughes.

"While kids used to come home and say 'What's for dinner?', young people may be saying 'What is dinner?'," says Hughes. He spoke of a growing trend towards 'snackified' food and ready meals. Meat and fish jerky, small portions, bite-sized protein options, with sushi as a prime example. Easy to eat, whenever, wherever.

These trends and counter trends are driving innovation and hybrids in the protein space. "In North America in the last five years all the growth in food manufacturing is coming from smaller companies (while the big companies have generally seen declines). I have never seen a better opportunity for small scale companies to do well, and what's more, to seek financing from big food companies. They are interested in these products," says Hughes.

There are significant opportunities for the pork sector to adapt and meet the expectations of the modern consumer but Hughes sees this as a critical time. "The meat industry must substantially up its marketing game or it will haemorrhage quickly."