Australia’s red meat industry is operating in an increasingly challenging global environment, not only experiencing tough seasonal conditions in many regions, but also facing significant attention around the sustainability of the red meat and livestock sectors and the place of red meat in a healthy diet.
More than ever before, consumers – particularly in developed markets – are interested in the ‘what, how and who’ behind the products, goods and services they consume. Producers can be proud of what they do and how the outcome of the hard work is nourishing the community. However, with so much information available to consumers, and often with contradictory messages, they can be overwhelmed and confused about the credentials of red meat.
Here, MLA Managing Director, Jason Strong, shares how MLA is working to inform consumers about the health, welfare and environmental credentials of red meat and drive continued demand and consumption domestically and overseas.
Does red meat have a challenge talking to consumers?
Absolutely. With more and more media attention globally focused on the environment, sustainability, healthy diets and the supposed increase demand for meat alternatives, our industry faces a challenge to ensure the strong credentials of red meat, particularly as a critical part of a healthy diet, are continued to be heard.
We know consumers – particularly in developed markets – are more than ever interested in where and how their food is produced. This in itself is a key driver in the headlines we increasingly see.
But despite this growing interest, we know consumers remain confused by the sheer amount of information available, not to mention the fact that many reports can offer contradictory and conflicting information on the credentials of red meat.
This means as an industry there is an opportunity to cut through the information maze – providing consumers with the facts so they can continue to enjoy red meat.
For MLA, talking with consumers remains a critical component of our work across marketing, research and development. But critically, better communicating with red meat producers – and providing the information and resources to allow them be better advocates for our industry – is an area of real focus.
Do some of the headlines around red meat match the facts?
Unfortunately not. With so much media attention on these issues, small interest groups can seem to have a huge voice compared to what Australians in general are doing with their lives. A very timely example of the disproportionate voice of a few, which becomes amplified out of context by the media, is a report released just this week by Food Frontier. The whole premise of this group is a think tank for alternative proteins.
In the last 12 months, we’ve seen this time and again around the reporting of a surge in vegan or vegetarian diets or the rise in meat alternatives – and the subsequent impact on red meat consumption.
The reality is this media attention is occurring against a backdrop in which most of the population in Australia continues to buy red meat and enjoy it as part of the weekly diet.
Consumer data shows the percentage of households that eat beef and lamb remains very high. Beef was on the menu in more than 90% of Australian households last year, and lamb in more than 76% of households.
Let’s be clear, MLA’s consumer insights confirm that red meat continues to be the most popular protein with Australian consumers by value, with red meat and vegetables the most popular meal in Australian households.
Only last week we saw ABC’s Australia Talks National Survey of 55,000 Australians from across every state and territory and every federal electorate about their attitudes, behaviours and experiences. The survey revealed that just 1% of the nation identifies as vegan, while just 3% considered themselves vegetarian.
These findings are supported by MLA consumer research, which shows for the past three years, the number of metropolitan people who identify as vegan or vegetarian has remained stable, and that there is even a proportion of this group that occasionally eat meat.
How is MLA promoting the continued enjoyment of red meat in this environment?
As the marketing, research and development service provider for the Australian red meat industry, MLA’s core role is to invest in programs and activities to increase the profitability and prosperity of the Australian red meat industry – and drive continued demand and consumption of red meat domestically and overseas.
MLA’s research role also means we invest in consumer insights to better inform industry policy and consumer decision-making. This allows MLA to focus on stimulating demand using the purchase drivers most important to most consumers – eating quality, nutrition and versatility, the need to fit in with the household budget, and convenience.
Our consumer insights also show a strong consumer trend toward health and wellbeing. Australians want variety and healthier meals, but can be confused about how much red meat is healthy. A critical solution to address this confusion is to provide guidance to consumers on the amount (portion size) of red meat they should be consuming as part of a healthy meal.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines exist to provide guidance to regulators, policy makers and health professionals about the amount and kinds of foods that consumers need to eat for healthy diet.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines are based on scientific evidence and provide recommendations appropriate to the Australian diet. They currently recommend the consumption of 65g/day cooked red meat, which is equivalent to 455g/week of cooked red meat as part of a healthy diet because red meat is considered the most important protein source for iron and zinc.
Not surprisingly, MLA’s research shows that consumers remain confused on how to practically interpret and incorporate the Australian Dietary Guidelines into their everyday meals as part of a healthy diet. This is where MLA can assist consumers on a practical level.
The consumer data shows current red meat consumption in Australia is in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines and consumers should be confident they can continue to enjoy their current levels of red meat as part of a healthy diet.
MLA will continue to promote red meat consumption as a part of a healthy diet.
MLA has developed a number of practical resources that gives consumers the confidence to continue to enjoy red meat as part of a healthy diet by providing a variety of everyday meal ideas and inspiration using red meat, including:
- MLA’s ‘So what’s for dinner?’ initiative provides a suite of resources designed for general practitioners and dietitians to use with their patients to help them achieve variety, balance and enjoyment in their meals for good health and wellbeing. This consumer-focused approach is important for providing a bridge between the Australian Dietary Guidelines and ‘the plate’, and how to continue to incorporate and enjoy red meat in everyday meals. To view the resources, visit: mlahealthymeals.com.au/healthy-eating
- MLA’s consumer marketing campaigns for both beef and lamb include significant elements that promote meal ideas, including point of sale material including posters and recipe booklets featuring easy recipes.
More broadly, MLA has a number of other consumer and community programs that promote red meat’s credentials. These include:
- the Australian Good Meat website, where 20 frequently asked questions from consumers are answered
- Paddock to Plate virtual reality experience for beef and lamb: mla.com.au/vr
- Rare Medium foodservice program and e‑magazine: raremediummag.com
- School education – engaging schools and teachers through red meat teaching resources aligned with the national curriculum: mlavirtualexcursions.com
- Partnerships with major community events such as royal shows and food festivals.
This program of work is ongoing and is extremely important to the future long-term prosperity of Australia’s red meat industry.