Meat is a matter of taste, not a habit

The headline chatter screeches that Americans are gorging on meat again after the release of Rabobank’s report showing meat consumption increased 5% last year. For mainstream news outlets, it seems to be disheartening that U.S. consumers are returning to meat and potatoes. For those is favor of the vegetarian lifestyle, the explanation for the growth spurt in meat consumption is simply a bad habit for Americans to break, especially as “veganism gains popularity.”

Yet, farmers and ranchers can easily tell you that consumers are eating more meat again because it tastes good and more reasonable prices are now greeting them at the meat counter. It is not a “habit” the average consumer actually was trying to break. The higher meat prices in 2014 simply curb the ability for consumers to eat more meat and force them to switch up protein sources. The recently released report from Rabobank only confirms what the animal agriculture sector already knew — price is still a powerful driving force.

Still, the report did contain some eye-opening news for livestock producers. All three major species in the United States are expanding at the same time. Along with U.S. protein production increasing 2.5% annually through 2018, Rabobank also estimates domestic meat consumption is growing.

For the American consumer, it will be a smorgasbord with more affordable animal proteins at their fingertips. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports meat and poultry prices have dropped 4.7% and 3.2% in one year, respectively.

So, just exactly how will this play out in the world of animal protein competition? Will cheap chicken edge ahead of affordable pork and beef?

Month-after-month for the last two years, U.S. consumers participating in the Oklahoma State University Food Demand Survey affirm that taste is a major factor, beyond price, when purchasing food. Since price is no longer a real issue, taste will prevail.

The cycle of the market is the normal part of doing business for livestock producers. However, how individual operations respond to the ups and downs frankly defines the essence of the business. A turn of cycle is a good time to have another look at your marketing mission.

Is your customer local or global?

The days of merely feeding a hog to the target market weight and taking it to the closest market are long gone. It may mean making adjustments in nutrition, genetics and/or practices to provide the ideal product for your target consumer.

Taking a few plays from a big business guru, visualize the ideal consumer that you can sustainably supply at the practical profit margin without being greedy, write the plan down and do it! For some pig farmers, the plan is to continue business as normal, but making finite adjustments to remain profitable in a declining marketing environment. For others, it may mean thinking and doing things differently. 

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