Consumer trends, more than fads

By Hannah Johlman

Trends in the food business affect people far beyond restaurant diners and retail shoppers. They reach back to the farm and ranch to shape the way food is produced, keeping consumer demand for high-quality, sustainable beef top of mind in the country.

At the National Restaurant Association (NRA) trade show in Chicago this spring, exhibition halls were filled with chefs, culinary and other professionals, ranging from food to beverage, packaging to cookware.

Midan Marketing, which encompasses the food chain from gate to plate from offices in North Carolina and Chicago, shared five beef demand trends noted at the show:

  1. Trust and transparency are tops
  2. Local is trendy, but fuzzy
  3. The Story matters
  4. Premium is in
  5. Fat is back

“There was a clear theme that attendees were seeking regional or local products, sustainable products and transparency between producer and consumers,” said Steve Hixon, account management director for Midan. Trends were identified from topics in common among exhibitors and presenters throughout the show, he explained.

Some of the biggest changes Hixon noticed were increased demand for added value – both in terms of processing and high-quality beef – and more desire for transparency from producers.

“Cattleman should really see that as an opportunity to do a better job of adding value to the cattle they’re producing by doing simple things,” said Mark McCully, vice president of production for Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB). “Sometimes we look at these things as cattleman and maybe get a little overwhelmed at, ‘What does the consumer fully want to understand?’”

The answers are simple though, he said.

“There are some basic things that I think the market will start rewarding as it relates to source verification, some documentation of animal care, antibiotics, stewardship and those sorts of things,” McCully said.

Those components combine to create the producer’s “story.”

Hixon said producers at the show who stood out in telling their story demonstrated being “genuine and transparent. No smoke and mirrors but complete openness to the process and the distribution.”

“Small farmers should focus on their niche,” he said. “Don’t expect to consume the whole pie. Capture your piece and do it well.”

And they should not feel intimidated competing with larger producers, either. Using the power of social media to reach consumers gets your voice heard, Hixon said.

Combining clear channels of communication with a quality product leads to the top, McCully said, noting that has long been the recipe at CAB.

“It’s kind of the cornerstone of how this brand was built,” he says. “It is understanding that at the end of the day, the consumer still wants a consistently great eating experience and quality products.”

Most cattlemen know some basics of what consumers want, but as trends like the top five from the NRA show become more apparent, McCully said it’s time to think about how to fit those into management and marketing today.