All this while the focus of the animal protein industry has been to ‘produce food’. The when, where and how of it weren’t discussion points. The industry, has taken its time to acknowledge the changing considerations of the end user- the consumer.
The end consumers have benefitted from the consistent growth in productivity and efficiency of animal protein production, choosing to spend their disposable income on purchase of meat and its derivatives. The consumer is also ‘aware’ and ‘conscious’ of what’s happening around the world. How food choices and preferences are changing, what considerations are driving that change, so on and so forth. Slowly but certainly it was bound to influence how the Indian consumer viewed animal protein.
This has been long coming: the industry- producers, processors and marketers of animal protein, is at an inflection point where it is compelled to think beyond productivity and efficiency. And that ‘beyond’ is understanding the shift in cultural and market expectations for animal protein. There is a lot of lost ground to cover.
Consumer priorities globally have undergone an important shift. During Covid many lost means to livelihood, others faced uncertainty about income and illness. In this period of heightened anxiety, post COVID, feeding their families and keeping them healthy are a higher priority. Instead of being concerned about what’s in the environment that might harm the planet, the concern today revolves more around what’s in the environment that might harm me or my family. Its definitely a step down from concerns associated with sustainability and so on and looking more towards survival and self preservation.
Affordable, Healthy Nutrition.
Consumers are counting on food industry innovation to provide affordable, healthy options with an eye toward immunity and how processed foods can play a new role. They are also re-thinking their opposition to “processed foods” if there is a nutritional benefit to the processing. Fortifying processed foods with vitamins and minerals may now be back in vogue as consumers look for more opportunities to enhance immune health. This is a clear win for the protein sector.
Plant protein is evolving – it is giving meat eaters an alternative to feeling guilty about the health and environmental impacts of animal protein by providing a passable alternative that is perceived to be “better for me” and “better for the planet”. ‘Veg meat’ options in India from producers like Greenbird, Blue Tribe, Good Dot etc are slow making inroads.
However, the initial perception of ‘better for me’ is now being questioned by a growing awareness that most plant-based meat alternatives are highly processed with a long list of ingredients, not to mention the added sugar. This provides an opening for animal protein producers to spotlight its nutritional attributes while continuing to innovate as well as to highlight clean labels and nutritionally dense protein.
Engagement with Gen Z & digitised information delivery.
Gen Z generation of consumers embraces technology, expects innovation and demands engagement. Direct to consumer ( DTC) processed food producers have a definite advantage where they can use consumer feedback to continuously improve product formulations. Giving people an impression that their voice is being heard , gives them a new reason to try a product again, even if they didn’t like it the first time. This model – digital feedback loop for ongoing product innovation will create an opportunity for animal protein companies to improve their engagement and products.
COVID-19 is a pivot point for consumers that marks the shift of in-person supermarket shopping as the dominant retail channel to consumers buying food and meat online. Research shows consumers now spend 30 minutes or less on preparation, rely more on online shopping with delivery and/or pick-up. Technology is food shopping is here to stay. This is an opportunity for the animal protein sector to meet (or create) unmet needs through innovation. Is animal protein center of the plate, a meal stretcher or a snack? The answer is yes to all three and more. The real question is, which animal protein companies will be innovative enough to capture this opportunity.
As food producers, a key area is communication with the end consumer. And that will be possible only if there is an understanding of where the consumer is coming from.
Fresh and High Quality.
Aware consumers, from their research and reading have formed a belief that the fat profile and vitamin content of organic, grass-fed or free-range products are better, hence the demand for organic eggs and dairy from grass-fed cows. They are also willing to pay a premium for this.
Consumers are concerned about how the animals are being raised at farm level. They are vocal about their expectation of improved welfare standards for food producing animals.
Plant-Based Alternative Proteins.
Even in the case of consumers looking to reduce meat consumption, they have conflicting feelings about plant-based proteins. For one, its taste and another, the high level of processing involved in manufacturing of plant based protein.
Food producers need to actively work to meet consumer expectations with products that give consumers the animal protein they crave, give them assurances that they’re making the right decisions for themselves and their families – that they’re providing high quality, affordable protein produced in an ethical manner.
Communication is key.
Food producers need to deliver a message to the consumers. For e.g. leverage “locally grown” so on and so forth. Animal protein production has to become more consumer-centric by taking feedback, and factoring it in product development will bring them closer to the consumer.
Food labels should contain information that talks about the measures food producers adopt to ensure animal well-being, environmental impact and other issues that could drive animal protein consumers to alternatives.
Essential Nutrients and Health.
Egg is the cheapest protein and as such accessible to all for desired nutrient delivery. Role of animal protein in in immune health has to be highlighted to drive home the point.
Engage Emerging Audiences.
Develop a specific Gen Z strategy. COVID-19 has shaped consumer attitudes regarding their food and how it’s produced, shaping the future of animal protein. Consumers are clearly in the driver’s seat and following their lead provides the food system with the best chance for long-term success as consumers adopt new – and perhaps long-lasting – behaviours.