Where’s the beef?

The “Meatless Monday” movement has captured Diane McCann-Hiltz’s attention.

Diane McCann-Hiltz

The “Meatless Monday” movement has captured Diane McCann-Hiltz’s attention.

A consumer market specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, McCann-Hiltz isn’t about to start her weeks off as a vegetarian. But she’s wondering if the international movement — which is seeking to reduce people’s meat consumption by 15 per cent — has legs.

“We’re watching this closely to see what impact it will have.”

McCann-Hiltz described a number of factors influencing consumers’ meat-purchasing habits during a presentation at the Capturing Feed Grain & Forge Opportunities conference in Red Deer on Wednesday.

Small price changes, she said, doesn’t have a significant impact on shoppers at the meat counter. So it’s important that red meat industries don’t give consumers non-price reasons to switch.

“These non-price reasons could include food safety concerns, health information and convenience, as well as sustainability and animal welfare issues,” she said.

In recent years, environmental and economic sustainability, and animal welfare have become more important, observed McCann-Hiltz. Similarly, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the working conditions and wages of those who produce their food.

When it comes to health, perceived links between fat consumption and heart disease have translated into reduced beef consumption, she said. And sodium content is likely to become a growing concern going forward.

Surveys of consumers in Canada and the United States indicate that freshness, leanness, price, colour and tenderness are the biggest determinants when it comes to buying beef. In Japan, the top five factors are freshness, country of origin, price, safety assurance and colour; while in Mexico freshness, colour, price, flavour and safety assurance head the list.

McCann-Hiltz noted more than 80 per cent of Canadian and American consumers consider beef safe, but the figure is only 48 per cent in Japan and 50 per cent in Mexico.

More people also want to know where their food comes from.

McCann-Hiltz stressed that consumers are heterogeneous, so you can’t generalize.

“We’re very different in terms of our demographics and in terms of our values.”

However, Americans are much greater consumers of meat than Canadians, with 2008 per capita consumption of poultry south of the border at 53 kg, as compared to 38.1 kg in Canada. In the case of beef, American consumption averaged out to nearly 41 kg a person, versus 29 kg in Canada. For pork, the figures were more than 35 kg in the U.S. and 23.5 kg here.

The exception was lamb, of which more is consumed per person in Canada.

McCann-Hiltz noted that most Canadians are already eating more protein than they require, so market growth in the future will have to depend on export markets or getting consumers to switch from other types of meat.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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