Building consumer trust for red meat
25 September 2018
When it comes to food production, Australian consumers are increasingly demanding more transparency and traceability. MLA’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Lisa Sharp, explains the importance of building community trust in Australian red meat.
1. MLA does a lot of consumer and community research. What do consumers think of our industry?
MLA is keen to understand consumer perceptions – of our products and our industry – as these influence purchasing decisions. For each of the past eight years, we’ve run a national survey focusing on this. What we can see is that the majority of consumers feel generally positive towards the industry, with the most positive associations linked to perceptions of farmers. There has, however, been some erosion in trust in recent years.
2. What is the importance of community trust from MLA’s perspective?
An absence of trust can lead to consumers limiting the product or rejecting it.
Lower levels of trust will see the community call on government for increased regulation or outright bans.
Growing mistrust is a global trend said to have started with the events of September 11, 2001 and the Global Financial Crisis that followed, with society now considerably less trusting of governments, institutions and corporations.
At the same time, there have been food scares where regulations that are meant to protect consumers have failed. This trend is seen in food with the ever increasing number of apps and websites that help consumers know more about the food they’re buying and how it was produced.
Increasingly consumers want to make purchases that align with their personal values – food that’s good for me, good for the animal and the planet. So it’s essential that the practices of the industry align with these expectations. In doing this, we maintain consumer confidence and trust.
3. What are the main drivers behind consumer considerations when buying Australian red meat?
Across most markets, the single biggest driver remains ‘price’, followed by other benefits such as freshness, taste and versatility. Here in the domestic market, there’s a small but growing number limiting red meat consumption due to health concerns, animal welfare and environmental impact.
4. What strategies does MLA have in place to address these hesitations?
As the industry’s R&D and marketing services provider, MLA works to enhance community perceptions through the following activities:
- R&D in support of industry’s animal welfare and environment policy and practices
- promoting the adoption of animal welfare initiatives and good practice
- supporting industry’s ongoing evaluation and reporting
- proactive community engagement.
Examples of community engagement activities include MLA’s schools program, producer advocacy, community events, Paddock to Plate ‘virtual reality’ experience and online resources, such as Good Meat.
In the health space, MLA undertakes nutrition research that highlights the benefits of red meat in a healthy diet and supports the retention of beef, lamb and goatmeat within the Australian Dietary Guidelines. MLA also develops nutrition communication resources to help GPs, nutritionists and other influencers.
Importantly, MLA will continue to track and monitor community sentiment and refine community engagement activities as required. We’ll also continue to share information about our practices with organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, RSPCA, major customers and investors.
5. Has the recent live sheep export issue impacted domestic lamb consumption and/or community confidence?
Our data has shown that transport of sheep – both live export and road transport – is a concern for a small but growing number of consumers. The groups most concerned are women and younger Australians, though more recently, older Australians (typically very heavy consumers of lamb) have also registered their concerns.
6. Some people have suggested that MLA should run an advertising campaign to explain to Australians how important the live export industry is. Why hasn’t this been implemented?
Community trust issues can’t be addressed with a mass advertising campaign. Actions speak louder than words and industry must implement policies and practices that deliver on the values and expectations of the community.
If there’s a gap between community expectations and practice, industry needs to work with stakeholders to address this. In some cases this might require practice change. In all cases it requires a commitment by industry to be transparent.
Trust for the live export trade will only grow through genuine and transparent welfare performance.
Any claims made on packaging or in advertising need to be backed up by practice – on every single farm, every truck, every processing facility and every ship, every time.
The consumer is the most important link in the supply chain and therefore we need to understand what they want, need and value and respond to this to ensure the long-term prosperity of our industry.