WASHINGTON, June 7, 2017 - A major generational cohort is beginning to impact how beef is displayed and sold, forcing grocers to adapt and keep up with generational preferences.

Any marketing professional worth his or her salt can attest to the purchasing power of millennials, the generation born between 1982 and 2004. As the group ages – it’s expected to become the largest generational group – companies are trying to figure out how to curry their favor.

That includes efforts by beef retailers and producers.

Last week, about 60 members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association gathered in Denver for the Young Cattlemen’s Conference (the trip continued to Chicago and will wrap up Thursday in Washington). A continuing topic of conversation on the Denver leg of the trip was maintaining a relationship with millennials and keeping beef products on their plate.

Much of the conversation centered around a familiar theme: Consumers want to know where their food comes from. But beyond consumer curiosity is the realization that millennials can appreciate a good beef meal, but might not have the expertise or experience to cook it.

“Everyone is time-starved,” Kris Staaf, director of public affairs for the Denver division of Albertsons-Safeway, told Agri-Pulse. “They want to be able to get in, get out, and get on with their day.”

Staaf said that might mean selling pre-marinated product or pre-assembled kabobs for grilling. That practice also carries into other sections of the store like the produce aisle, where a YCC participant was amazed at the markup a consumer was willing to pay for something like a pre-sliced cucumber. Some companies are also able to provide the convenience of home delivery in another effort to make consumer purchasing easier and also to serve as a competitor to pre-packaged meal delivery services like Blue Apron.

“(We’re) making it easy for them to get in here, get out, and keep going,” Staaf said.

That adapted mentality can also be seen in some of the displays around the meat locker, too. Aside from marketing tactics like labeling steaks and roasts as “Naturally Gluten Free,” grocers are trying to shrink the gap between producer and consumer.

During the tour of a Safeway store for YCC participants, a sign was tucked in among various offerings of fresh and frozen meat showing multiple generations of a Colorado family farm that supplies beef to the company. Staaf said that plays very well to the Denver area’s desire to support local producers, but is also a priority in other stores across the country.

“If we have some pockets where we have some concerns (about local supply of a product), we’re going to go out there to the smallest grower/producer to see if they can handle even a small amount of our stores,” she said. “It’s that important to our company.”

Some producers have been able to use that attitude to their advantage, marketing product directly to the consumer directly from the farm. Matt Hardecke from Wildwood, Missouri, sells all natural grass-fed and conventional beef and beef jerky around the St. Louis area through farmers markets; consumers can order bulk quantities online. He says those endeavors account for most of the beef he produces, and they provide an opportunity to engage directly with his consumer.

“We get lots of questions about topics that are hot in the industry, and it gives us an opportunity to really talk about the industry from a producer’s perspective of what goes on,” Hardecke said.

From a national perspective, the millennial parent has become a key demographic for NCBA and beef producers. Alisa Harrison, NCBA’s senior vice president for global marketing and research, told YCC attendees that in October, the “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” slogan will receive a boost through a new website and information targeted toward young parents looking to feed their children healthy meals, but perhaps might lack the expertise or knowledge of what beef cuts might work best for their needs.

At this point, these marketing tactics have not yet trickled down to most producers. While products like organic, natural, and antibiotic-free beef are experiencing undeniable growth, conventional beef still makes up over 90 percent of purchased product. For now, marketing and branding by the retailer are pushing the changes.