By Matt Reese and Dusty Sonnenberg
It is no secret that consumers are increasingly opinionated concerning the origins, production methods and ingredients in the food they eat. With this in mind, the United Soybean Board is working to better understand and quantify consumer preferences with regard to the meat they purchase.
“A lot of people aren’t sure what the protein source that they’re choosing to buy at the grocery store or some other retail establishment has been fed. One of the statistics out there says that 49% of consumers say that they knew that the animals were fed a vegetarian diet. We know from the industry that means the meat and bone meal has been excluded from the livestock diet. For the average consumer, though, they’re not aware of that. They do not understand we’re taking the soybeans we’re growing and producing another very healthy product for the consumers to eat. The animals that eat soy meal are becoming leaner, with less fat content, and it’s a healthier protein source for consumers to choose,” said Steve Reinhard, vice chair of the United Soybean Board (USB) director and Crawford County farmer. “We’re looking at more of a whole wholistic approach into the person’s diet, including through meat consumption with the leaner products that we have available that have been fed soy in their diet. We’re looking at childhood obesity and how we can include not only the leaner meats, but soy in general as a part of their diet. We’re looking at some of the other health issues and how we can help people have a longer, more productive lives and save on our medical costs we have in our country and around the world. One of the things we’re doing is to help educate consumers on how soy plays an important role in human health.”
A new survey from the United Soybean Board reveals valuable insights into consumer preferences and purchasing attitudes for animal protein, particularly pork products.
“The majority of the soybean crop — about 97% of our meal — in the United States goes into animal feed. We are always looking at ways that we can help to promote the use of soy to consumers,” said Laurie Isley, USB Communication & Education Committee Chair. “USB has always been very focused on using our checkoff dollars to do research and look at how can we grow a better soybean crop and how can we better market that soybean crop. This research really ties into that marketing component in looking at consumer perceptions of soy fed pork.”
According to the survey, 70% of respondents say that animal diet is extremely or very important to them when purchasing meat, up from 51% in 2019.
“We saw a pretty dramatic increase from just our last study that was done just 4 years ago with that increase from 51% up to the 70%, so we’re already seeing an increased interest, whether that’s from people becoming more health conscious or whether it’s the push for plant-based diets. Consumers are just more interested now in where their food comes from, how that product was raised and what that product was fed,” Isley said. “They’re much more likely to look at food labels now and we just think this might be an area where there is enough interest from consumers that they might even be able to pay a little more, which of course will benefit soy in the long run, but also the livestock producers that can have a product that is considered a premium product.”
The research found meat consumers who prefer soy-fed meat feel it offers better health, higher quality, greater nutrition, and better taste. This research confirms that consumers desire to know more about their meat choices, such as what poultry and livestock consume. When it comes to soybean meal, this nutritional package of protein, the amino acids that make it up, and energy concentration continues to be the standard for all other plant protein feedstuffs.
Other key takeaways from the survey include:
- Consumers are buying pork more regularly, with 41% purchasing pork at least weekly — up from 37% in 2019. Additionally, 30% of millennial meat consumers say they buy pork two to three times a week.
- Three out of four consumers (77%) are more likely to purchase meat if it’s raised and fed by U.S. farmers. Even higher than that, the majority of consumers (88%) are more likely to purchase meat from animals born, bred and raised in the U.S.
- Nearly all U.S. consumers (96%) pay some attention to food labels. Knowing the animal was raised humanely and fed a nutritious diet are the leading food labels for trustworthy meat brands.
- 65% of consumers are more likely to purchase meat if it’s not fed synthetic ingredients, which bodes well for U.S. soybean meal as a natural ingredient.
“If we just increase the amount of soybeans used in a ration even by 1%, that really makes a significant difference across the country for all of our soybean producers,” Isley said. “Our studies have shown that by using soybeans in a livestock diet, there are also some other effects in improving the overall health and resilience of the of hogs and poultry. Those are areas that we continue to do research in and try and show the benefits of using U.S. soy in these different diets. Then we carry that through and do research on the consumer end. This particular study is saying there is a value for U.S. soy-fed pork to the consumers.”
Insights from the survey will help inform the checkoff’s communications investments and messaging to key consumers. In September, U.S. Soy and grocery chain Giant Eagle launched a collaboration to promote soy-fed pork to its customers. The checkoff has also partnered with Coborn’s and other large Midwestern retail chains on similar efforts. The goal is to show that consumers seek and may pay more for pork that’s fed sustainably grown U.S. soy meal.
USB commissioned global market research firm Reputation Leaders to survey more than 2,000 U.S. adults online spanning 30% Baby Boomers, 26% Gen X, 31% Millennials and 14% Gen Z.