USMEF Spring Conference analyzes how consumer trends play in the US, internationally

KANSAS CITY, MO. — On the second day of its Spring Conference, May 23, the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) led presentations and panel discussions that included Anne-Marie Roerink, author of the Power of Meat report and principal of 210 Analytics, who shared market observations about how consumer trends guide market expansion.

Roerink was joined by Erin Borror, vice president of economic analysis at USMEF, and other USMEF representatives from Japan, Central America and South Korea. 

During her initial presentation, Roerink explained how consumer behaviors have changed with inflation and the rise of food prices since 2019. 

“We see some massive differences in where people are getting their meal inspiration ideas,” Roerink said. “Gen Z, it’s all about the visual and it’s all about the digital – TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. Then you look at some of the older generations and you’ll see it’s all about routine. So, the big question is, how can we make meat a routine in those younger generations as well?”

The first USMEF representative presenting was Lucia Ruano, working for Central America and the Dominican Republic, who showed a recent survey in Guatemala that explained family, friends, and social media as the top three influences in consumers’ food purchasing decisions. 

Ruano said USMEF used social media in Central America to help become a trusted resource for consumers on various subjects like nutrition, food handling and safety, sustainability and how to prepare pork and beef properly. 

Next up was Taz Hijikata, senior director of consumer affairs in Japan of USMEF, who discussed the country’s overall awareness of protein importance, especially among the aging population and younger generations. To connect with Japanese consumers, the association will work with content from influencers that includes messaging about how US beef and pork can meet their daily protein needs.

The final presentation was made by Jihae Yang, who is based in Korea and serves as USMEF’s vice president of the Asia Pacific. She explained it was critical for the red meat industry to monitor and understand the evolving purchasing behavior of younger generations and to evolve along with them. 

“Across all markets, younger consumers are looking for convenience, nutrition, quality and to reduce food waste and save money,” Yang said. “And there are foodies who are also looking for professional information about cooking. We are increasingly using social media influencers, which is a cost-effective way for us to reach younger audiences with relevant information and the right messaging about US beef and pork.”

During the panel discussion that followed the presentations, Roerink pointed out that the meat industry tends to be very science-driven when it tries to communicate its message of high-quality protein.

She pointed out that in her discussions with people, very few understand terms like no feedlot ever, crate-free, and especially regenerative agriculture.

Roerink talked about recent examples of going to food conferences with people who did not know what regenerative agriculture even meant, including interviews she’s had with consumers.

“I think a big lesson for all of us is regardless of who you are, what you produce, where you sit, what country you’re at, we all have the same boss and that is the consumer,” Roerink said. “If the consumer can understand what it is we do, and how their food is safe, delicious, nutritious, how we can promote US beef, pork, etc., I think we’re much better off using their language.”

Another topic that came up was the importance of beef and pork being captured by artificial intelligence models like ChatGPT. Roerink used an example in her presentation of meal planning and asked the chatbot for help. She said that in her experience it took all the way to seven days for beef to show up on the platform.

Roerink discussed the importance of providing science-based information and clearly telling the story of meat so that AI will recognize beef and pork materials. 

“I do think others are much better at celebrating their own success, and relentlessly beating their own drum,” Roerink said. “We are not very good at that as a meat industry because, at the end of the day, we just focus on feeding the world. I think we have to keep feeding that beast and getting information out there that everybody loves meat and poultry.”

Later in the conversation Yang also made a critical point about the habits the younger generation are starting to create around meat and how they make their buying decisions. 

“The way we communicate with the young generation should be different because they are reacting to something fun and trendy and something related to lifestyle,” Jihae Yang said. “They don’t react to a nutritional fact or toward serious information. The way we process the information and turn it into their language is the most important thing when we communicate with the young generation.”