By Garth Mcclintock
Beef is losing market share and with recent retail prices so high it’s exacerbating the situation. Prior to the recent spike in prices, per capita consumption of beef had dropped 12% from 2003 to 2012, according to Stats Canada. It’s safe to say the current high prices will further reduce per capita consumption. This sentiment was echoed at the recent ABIC conference in Red Deer where Gary Haley of Vantage Meats spoke about the challenges facing our industry. He commented that our industry needs to continue efforts to be more transparent and do a better job figuring out the Millennial’s of this generation. Today’s challenge with consumers is reminiscent of the 80’s when “lean” meat was the flavour of the day. Basically, our food industry is always challenged to be better, in every aspects of the food chain. The only constant is the fickle, uninformed and today, more misinformed consumer. Because of this we essentially have the tail wagging the dog as we endeavor to appease the consumer. Is the customer always right? Does this adage still apply today when there is so much misinformation passed on by social media? Can we achieve better results by correcting misinformation or should we ignore the dissenters and push ahead with the truth as we know it? We certainly try hard.
Last year we featured articles about social media. Like every other business we’ve jumped on the social media band wagon and continue to make our case to our consumers. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, are in vogue but again, if we look at our numbers, it’s not really working so well and misinformation channeled through social media is one of the reasons. A good example of how unreliable social media can be is a story from Italy published a few years ago. Apparently, there was an information leak that said that corruption existed with Italian politicians - go figure. The jist of the leak was that the ruling government had passed a bill whereas, should a politician lose their seat in the upcoming election they would be entitled to a huge unemployment package. It went on to name the person who proposed the bill, how much each person would be paid and even reported the yea and nay vote. The bill was passed and the story appeared authentic. The story was picked up by mainstream media, social media and other political organizations and a major uproar ensued. The problem was the whole story was fake.
Misinformation works so well and travels the same for a couple of reasons. People today can say whatever they want whereas prior to social media, fact checks were always completed before publishing. Today, everyone has access to the internet and everything is there for them to digest, fact or fallacy. Within this brave new world of information overload, comes a study about people’s habits. The study reports that people are attracted to what they call echo chambers or places/spaces where users share information that jives with their values and beliefs. Much like how newspapers [used to] work - right, left or center. In the study they identified four main categories: environment; diet; health and geopolitics. Where and how beef resonates in echo chambers is the issue and I’d suggest beef falls into three of the four echo chambers and not all the time in a positive context. As Gary Haley said about the Millennials (our newest consumer segment), they seem to favour chicken. Ergo, these like-minded people are sharing information which echoes with one another’s beliefs. Chicken 1, beef 0. The flip side is the other echo chambers where supporters/believers of beef reside. It’s like the Kipling poem, “East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet” or is it?
We’re spending a good deal of money promoting our product to international markets and it seems to be paying off. Domestically, it’s a different story. Each year, in each province it’s much the same agenda of meetings, travel, lobbying, promotions and what not and each year market share shrinks. Wouldn’t it be an interesting experiment to capture some of the millions of dollars spent in each province to pool and create an extensive national PR beef campaign using traditional and social networks? What could happen in such a campaign is unknown however, what will happen should this consumption continue is, we’ll wonder what happened? It may be time to make things happen rather than to wait and see.