Silver lining in dark clouds over meat, milk, egg production

By Jim Webster

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 14, 2014 - Livestock, dairy and egg producers may face year-round reproach from vegan extremists and diet scolds but last week they heard that “there has never been a time when the prospects have been as bright for your products as they are today.”

Nancy Kruse, owner of the Leading Food Consultants firm and a columnist for Nation's Restaurant News, told the American Agriculture Alliance's 13th annual Stakeholders Summit,

Lets Talk Food

“I don't believe I've ever seen a time better for animal agriculture - ever.”

Hers was one of several messages that provided optimism for an audience used to hearing its business blamed for obesity, any number of chronic diseases, animal cruelty and global warming.

“Despite veggie fascination, the ‘meatless Monday' campaign is stumbling,” Kruse said. “An important majority of colleges and universities have failed to endorse it. Students felt we were regulating choices. The name sounds like we're taking something away,” she added. “The increase in interest in vegetables reflects a desire for good food, not a rise in vegetarianism.”

Kruse also sees a sharp increase in supermarket and restaurant sales of protein products such as Greek yogurt, dairy-based energy bars and new fast food restaurant products with more protein but fewer calories. “More than half of adults want more protein in their diet. Butter consumption is up 24 percent in the last decade,” she said. “Fried chicken is exploding because it's real food. ‘Nose to tail' cuisine butchers are back.”

Nevertheless, the challenges are not going away, Kruse warned. Emotion-driven “Mommy bloggers” and activists will continue to use social media effectively to advance their criticism, she said. “You folks have got to get yourselves into these conversations, stay ahead of these issues, whether it's GMOs, industrial agriculture or antibiotics,” she told the audience.

“You need activism the same way consumers do,” Kruse advised. “The dialogue is being driven by a few activists who have seized the conversation. You've been ambushed. You've got to get hold of the conversation and not let it control you.”

The growing “real food” trend is a powerful driver for both the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations, she said. “It signifies goodness without deprivation.” Kruse sees it as a major opportunity for animal proteins. “There is no standard of identity for real food. It's an opportunity for you to get in on the ground floor and take control of defining real food.”

Consumers often may express views about food that don't reflect their real purchasing decisions, according to panelists at the summit devoted to reaching young consumers.

“Millennials, like any others, tend to fill out surveys according to what they want to be,” said David Fikes, vice president for consumer/ community affairs at the Food Marketing Institute.

“Consumers say they want antibiotic-free but it's only 2 percent of the product out there. They won't pay for it,” added Angela Anderson, manager of food chain outreach for the National Pork Board. “It's like cage-free eggs - the conventional is always sold out first.”

Kruse said young adults are “talking thin but eating fat. It's not new. Millennials are like Mom and Dad. We recognize there's a kind of schizophrenia” when it comes to food.

Certified Angus Beef found a niche market for beef raised without antibiotics but sold it without disparaging its traditional product, company President John Stika said. “Our retail and food service customers had a need to fill or they were going to migrate to where they could get it,” he says. The antibiotic-free product accounts for about 2 percent of CAB sales, he said.

Another panel agreed that reaching a generation that gets its information through portable tablets and mobile phones requires a new approach. “Industry leadership needs to understand social media better,” said Ray Prock, a dairy farmer from Denair, California. “When I was appointed to the National Dairy Board 4 1/2 years ago, at the first meeting ‘social media' was listed as a threat to the industry. Now it's an opportunity.”

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