Gen Z plans to eat more chicken, beef and pork

Technomic’s Q4 2023 Meat Institute Protein PACT survey addresses appetite for chicken, food safety awareness and health perceptions.

Ann Hess, Content Director

March 6, 2024

8 Min Read
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Since 1979, trust in U.S. institutions has declined dramatically, from the military to Congress. As Lori Rakoczy, associate principal for Technomic, points out American are living in a “trust deficit” time. However, for the meat industry, trust has remained stable to positive, and those consumers are not just confident about the industry overall, they're actually telling their friends.

“For the most part, we have active supporters outnumbering active detractors. We have seen a slight shift where there's a more positive feeling,” Rakoczy says. “The biggest one where we're seeing detractors is animal welfare. That’s a hard one to really budge, but one thing I want to point out here is consumers ages 18 to 24 are more likely to be detractors. So, they're more likely to tell their friends and this age group has more ability to spread those messages.”

During a recent webinar, Rakoczy and colleague John Williams addressed the importance of targeting messages towards Gen Z consumers as well as key findings from Technomic’s Q4 2023 North American Meat Institute Protein PACT consumer report. Since November of 2020, Technomic and the Meat Institute have partnered on an in-depth consumer study, surveying 500 consumers a month to get their perceptions and thoughts around the meat and poultry industry, but mainly on trust. Those five pillars of trust are health and wellness, food safety, environmental impact, animal welfare, and labor and human rights (occupational safety).

For environmental impact, labor and human rights, animal welfare and health and wellness, Rakoczy says there's a direct relationship between improving trust and consumption, or purchases.

“We're coming in, out of a 5-point scale, between 3.4 and 3.7. If these areas all got 4s that is estimated to increase consumption by 15%,” she says. “Considering population growth, by 2030, this would increase demand by 20%.”

If trust four goals are met by 2030, Rakoczy says that would translate to a $22.6 billion incremental gain. If trust stays the same, the incremental gain would only be $6.5 billion through 2030.

“If things turn around, go downhill, that's potentially almost an $8 billion loss,” she says. “These are real dollars, that we see can be impacted by increasing trust in the industry.”

While animal protein consumption frequency has held steady, chicken and beef have been ticking up. The Q4 survey found consumers have an insatiable appetite for chicken, especially among the Gen Z population. Once a week or more, 79% of consumers are eating chicken, a five-point jump from Q4 2022. Seventy-three percent of consumers reported eating beef once a week or more, a three-point increase from last year. Weekly pork consumption dropped from 56% Q4 2022 to 53% Q4 2023.

Consumers also noted they haven’t really changed how much they've been eating over the past year, with the exception of chicken. Forty-one percent said they're eating more chicken now than the year before. Rakoczy says that figure is largely driven by younger consumers,  with 53% of millennials and 51% of Gen Z saying they have eaten more chicken in the past year.

Overall, Gen Z plans to eat more chicken, beef and pork compared to the other age demographics. Rakoczy says this will be an area they plan to follow up with in future surveys to see if that age demographic really does eat more.

For consumers who say they plan on eating less protein in 2024, it was primarily due to health or cost, with cuts coming largely in the processed meats, beef and pork sectors. Seventy-two percent of consumers agreed that improving healthfulness would increase confidence.

As for animal welfare or environmental impact, 37% of consumers indicated that they are consuming less meat due to concerns there. Among millennials, that figure is 52%.

While food safety doesn’t seem to have an impact on consumption, Rakoczy says they are seeing more consumer awareness in the survey. Twenty-eight percent said they've heard some news lately about the industry, a five-point jump from last year. Top news mentions were food safety/recalls, inflation, lab-grown and product health.

“It doesn't seem to be impacting consumption or purchasing, but like I said, it's a watch out for, that this is becoming more top of mind for consumers,” Rakoczy says.

For the small percentage that are saying they are reducing consumption, specifically because of food safety, pork and chicken were at the top, which Rakoczy says could be at restaurants or at home.

“From what we see, people are a little nervous about preparing these two at home as well,” she says. “So, it's not so much the industry. It could be restaurants, it could be at home, but this is a concern.”

As for health perceptions, the gap has been widening between animal protein versus plant protein. “It looks like consumers are really kind of cooling to the idea of the plant-based meat protein because of cost and because of health perceptions,” “Rakoczy says. “We’ll see how that is changing over the next year, if there's more scalability and if costs come down, but I think it was really nutrition.”  

Who do consumers trust to make a healthy product? Farmers and ranchers rank high, with 60% consumer trust. They also trust the meat itself. Fifty-three percent of consumers agree that meat is a healthy part of the diet.

Millennials have the most trust in information that's published on animal protein products, while Gen Z and Baby Boomers are less likely to trust what's on the labels. The same can be said for third party certification claims with  skepticism coming from both Gen Z and Baby Boomers.

When it comes to health and wellness messaging, 55% of consumers trust opinions of healthcare professionals to relay that information, which Rakoczy says is edging out researchers at the meat and poultry production companies.

John Williams, Technomic research and insights manager, says it’s critical to tailor communications and engagement strategies, especially focusing on younger consumers like Gen Z, who have lower trust levels and are indicating a need for targeted engagement and communications to address their concerns.

Nearly half of all consumers say that animal welfare concerns influence their meat purchasing decisions. With 59% of millennials agreeing with this statement, Williams says millennials are not only more likely to let these concerns affect their purchasing decisions, but also the only generation where the majority of those who plan to reduce their meat consumption are doing so due to animal welfare concerns.

“This contrasts with Baby Boomers, who despite valuing animal welfare, find it less influential to their purchasing decisions,” Williams says. “ And Gen Z, who while less likely to prioritize animal welfare overall, are more likely to say it affects their purchasing decisions. These generational differences underscore the complex landscape of consumer attitudes and behaviors towards animal welfare.”

Gen Z and Millennials are willing to pay more for products with animal welfare certifications, particularly for chicken and beef. In fact, 51% of millennials would be willing to pay a premium price for chicken certified with an animal welfare certification.

For environmental impact, the survey has seen highly sustained levels of trust in the meat industry's ability to operate in an environmentally friendly manner. While 59% of consumers believe that environmentally friendly meat production is possible, there is a gap that exists between this belief and the perception of current practices, William says.

Thirty-seven percent of consumers have reduced their meat intake for environmental reasons. Additionally, 53% of consumers stressed the importance of their meat consumption not negatively impacting the environment.

“This connection between the environment concerns and consumer behavior underscores the need for industry attention in these areas,” Williams says. “Food waste, both in the industry and at the restaurant level, is becoming a greater concern for consumers.”

Consumers indicated they would like to see improvements in packaging, more education on the packaging itself, and sustainable packaging.

Consumer trust in the industry's ability to produce safe meat and poultry products has seen a significant upswing since Q3 2022, which Williams says reflects a more widespread agreement that the industry excels at preventing foodborne illnesses. It also highlights the importance of addressing concerns around food contamination, packaging safety and handling standards to maintain and build upon this trust.

“Over the past year, the commitment to preventing foodborne illnesses has never been more apparent,” Williams said. “The persistent fear of food contamination, especially from bacteria like salmonella or e coli, and the concern for undercooked meat, emphasizes the need for education and also reassurance about the safety of meat and poultry products. It's clear that the industry must remain proactive in managing and communicating food safety measures to ensure consumer trust remains strong wrong.”

Labor and human rights issues have been identified as foundational focus areas with a direct impact on consumer behavior, particularly among Gen Z consumers who have shown great interest in these areas. Over the past year, there has been a noticeable shift towards fewer detractors and more supporters of the industry's labor practices, Williams noted.

“The significance of meat and poultry employees extends beyond the industry itself, playing a pivotal role in communities around the country. Consumers continue to recognize this importance, with 60% saying, that these jobs are important to their communities,” Williams says.

While the industry can celebrate the progress made in improving labor practices, Williams says it's crucial to recognize that a positive perception is still not held by a majority of consumers.

“The disparity in perceptions, particularly among Baby Boomers, calls for a targeted approach in communications to address specific concerns, and enhance overall appreciation for the industry's commitment to labor and safety rights and practices,” he says.  

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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