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What One in Four Americans Say About Meat

Originally published on Meatingplace.com.

One in four Americans …

For most of us, those statistics may not raise an eye brow, but this one might: One in four says they are eating less meat. Why are 25 percent of Americans cutting back and how should animal agriculture respond?

A recent Gallup poll identified two main reasons for the reduction. The biggest one was health concerns, which was a factor for 90 percent of those who reduced their meat consumption. The second factor was environmental concerns.

What Does It Mean?

Many forces seem to be converging on the animal protein sector and the pressure seems to be dividing those in the meat business into two camps. On one end are those who fear the sky is falling and that alternative proteins and veganism will devastate the animal protein industry. On the other end are those who shrug off the impending threats and expect business to continue as usual.

The reality lies somewhere in the middle. The latest consumer research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) found that alternative protein is more than a passing fad, but many consumers continue to have a strong preference for beef, pork and chicken.

The study also shows consumers engaged in conversations about animal protein are driven by providing for and protecting their families, as well as protecting the earth’s resources, including animals raised for food. These are moral issues for these consumers who strive for control over their food choices.

This desire for control is also reflected in the Gallup poll, which found that those who cut back on meat did not reduce the number of servings but did reduce portion size.

What Should Be Done?

The number of people who are vegetarians has remained fairly constant for the last 20 years. This should encourage the industry that consumers continue to prefer animal protein. However, consumers increasingly want to feel confident that the food they choose is good for themselves, their families and the planet.

The industry must address the two dominant drivers causing consumers to reduce their meat consumption – health and the environment. Consumers have concerns that animal protein does not align with their values in these areas.

Tout the significant nutritional benefits of meat. There are many. (Interestingly, the CFI research shows vitamin B12 is a hot topic in conversation online.) And as more consumers gravitate toward foods with fewer ingredients, it doesn’t get any cleaner than beef, chicken or pork.

When it comes to the environment, the analysis of the latest study detailing greenhouse gas emissions from feedlots compared with the number of vehicles on the highway is not going to persuade shoppers. For these consumers with a high sense of morality, it is essential to connect with them on shared values. Show them what you’re doing to protect the earth’s natural resources. More than a message, this requires transparency, taking responsibility and demonstrating commitment to continuous improvement.

One in four Americans may be eating less meat, but two out of three say eat it frequently. When they have confidence that the producers and processors of animal protein share their values for protecting health and the environment, they’ll continue to enjoy it.