This month we celebrate May as Beef Month in Illinois. The start of summer grilling season creates more buzz around beef, and there could not be a better time for beef to take center stage.

Today there are more protein choices for consumers than ever before. In addition to the popular animal proteins beef, chicken and pork, newer forms of alternative proteins made from plants, such as soy and peas, are making their way into the marketplace.

While alternative proteins and veggie burgers have existed for decades, some of these newer products have significant financial backing resulting in aggressive marketing and great media fanfare.

But let’s look at what is really going on in the marketplace.

Consumers Choose Beef

Meat alternatives represent just a tiny fraction of pounds sold, barely registering at 0.1% share in 2018. Looking specifically at beef alternatives, the share is only 0.5%, with beef owning the other 99.5% of market share.

Regarding consumption, beef’s 2019 annual projection is more than 58 pounds per capita versus beef substitutes measuring just a few ounces per capita. For beef, 2019 will mark the fourth straight year per capita consumption increased from a low of 53.9 pounds in 2015.

This type of growth bodes well for beef demand as the annual U.S. Retail Beef Demand Index has increased by almost 15% since 2012. This increase in demand is being driven by consumer expenditures on beef, which reached an all-time high in 2018 of more than $105 billion in sales.

While this is a great story to tell, it’s important to note that chicken remains a formidable force and our number one protein competition. In terms of share of total meat and poultry consumption, chicken is in the lead with 42% share, or 93 pounds per capita, compared to beef’s 26% share or 58.3 pounds per capita. Keep in mind that the same companies that are marketing new beef alternatives are also marketing chicken alternatives.

Regarding consumer attitudes about meat alternatives, research has found that consumers consider beef one of the very best sources of protein, and plant-based and lab-grown alternatives are considered some of the worst.

While there is interest in these substitutes among some consumers, research shows that those who have tried them did so while continuing to enjoy beef. In other words, very few, if any are replacing the beef they love with substitutes.

Not Resting On Laurels

Despite the low market share of alternative protein today, we aren’t resting on our laurels. We must continue to compete every day for the consumer dollars spent on protein. On the national level and in Illinois we have a two-pronged strategy: Protect Beef’s Nomenclature and Position Beef as the Top Consumer Protein.

A Level Playing Field

First and foremost, to compete successfully, we must have a level playing field when it comes to the rules of food marketing and production.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s policy division, using member dollars, is leading efforts in Washington, D.C., to ensure meat alternatives — both current plant-based products and potential future lab-produced products — are properly marketed and regulated.

Leaders from IBA’s policy division were in Washington at the beginning of April having conversations with Illinois’ congressional delegation and state senators about the importance of ensuring a level playing field for real beef products.

During most of our meetings, we were met with understanding that false and deceptive marketing is an issue and that a level playing field makes sense.

It is important that we help lawmakers understand how beef is produced in the United States and the positive benefits it contributes to our diets and to our environment, so they do not pass ill-informed legislation that could put beef at a disadvantage.

Moving forward, we are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to work together to enforce existing labeling laws for plant-based protein products so that beef’s nomenclature is protected.

The FDA has the power to act against companies that use misleading labels to confuse consumers about the true nature of their product. We are making sure they use that authority when it comes to beef.

Since no framework currently exists for regulating lab-grown products, we pushed hard and were successful in ensuring that the USDA leads the regulatory oversight for labeling and inspection, just like for animal protein products. As government agencies develop this new regulatory structure, our mission is to ensure fairness for producers and consumers.

Taking It Head On

Research shows that when consumers choose meat alternatives, they do so because of what they perceive as health, safety, or environmental reasons. So, we are tackling those concerns head on.

NCBA, as a contractor to the beef checkoff, is leveraging the iconic, checkoff-funded “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” brand to tell the story of real beef and the people who produce it. We are showcasing the unique attributes of beef to distinguish it from all other protein choices.

New advertisements using tongue-in-check humor and beef’s swagger address alternative proteins head on. Taglines for these ads include:

  • Nicely done beef, you’ve proved that meat substitutes are just that. Substitutes.
  • Nicely done beef, you know a protein-packed meal looks nothing like a shake.
  • Nicely done beef, you provide the benefits of a protein bar without tasting like one.

Behind The Curtain

To leverage the trust that consumers have in farmers and ranchers, checkoff-funded ads demonstrate the care that farmers take in producing beef.

IBA is creating an “Illinois Stories” video series highlighting how producers care for their land and their animals. Filmed on farms throughout Illinois, these video ads help consumers understand the unique attributes of beef production.

IBA’s Checkoff Division also is investing in two digital advertising campaigns in partnership with other state beef councils to promote the “Rethink the Ranch” series of video ads that feature farmers and ranchers and have had more than 15.5 million video views. Additional campaigns in 2019 to share these videos will reach even more consumers, many of whom reside in our own state.

No Faking These Results

Ads are appearing on all major digital channels to reach targeted consumers and push the consumer to the BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com website for additional information.

Our research shows the ads are working. With a record 15 million visitors to the website since October 2017, there have been more than 88 million video views and more than 160 million consumer touch points annually.

To focus more on targeting Illinois consumers, especially those in the Chicagoland area, IBA’s Checkoff Division is promoting beef as a great-tasting, nutritious food choice raised by responsible Illinois farmers in partnership with the Illinois Farm Families coalition.

A digital advertising campaign with a focus on Facebook, Instagram and the IFF website/blog will run during May Beef Month.

We ran a similar campaign last year in May and reached 2.85 million consumers.

For all of Illinois’ 14,000 beef producers to reach that many consumers in a month, each individual producer would have to talk to 200 consumers.

This is the power of digital advertising; maximum reach with maximum return and it doesn’t require you to spend time away from your farm to let people know about the benefits of beef.

Facts About Beef

Beef continues to be extremely valuable to the retail and foodservice channels. A recent study found that when beef is part of a consumer’s grocery basket, retailers enjoy a considerable increase in the total basket’s value.

In fact, carts with beef generate 44% more sales across the store than carts with chicken. Beef substitutes fare even worse. Carts with beef contribute almost 20 times as many dollars to retailers as do carts with beef substitutes.

While more foodservice operators are beginning to include meat alternatives on their menus, there continues to be far more beef items in food service than meat alternatives. In 2018, $31 billion of beef was sold through foodservice outlets compared to $99 million of beef substitutes.

Through our work directly with retailers, we know they get questions from consumers about food production, including questions about beef. To ensure they have the right answers for beef-related questions, our team is getting the facts about beef directly to these grocery stores through a communications and outreach program, which positions beef as the top protein.

Our local affiliate organizations also are actively engaged with grocery stores and many will be at their local grocery store promoting beef and serving samples.

Consumers also have questions about how to buy and prepare beef. Today, consumers expect on-demand answers to their questions about anything at any time.

Information about beef is no different. So, to help consumers, through the Beef Checkoff, we launched “Chuck Knows Beef,” the first virtual assistant powered by Google Artificial Intelligence, to give consumers the answers to their questions through their smartphones or smart speakers where and when they need it.

Visit ChuckKnowsBeef.com and ask him a question; you might be interested in his answer if you ask him “What are meat substitutes?”

Going Forward

Yes, there is a lot of chatter going on right now about some new meat alternative items available to consumers. We don’t like it, either. So, we have been addressing it very aggressively and will continue to do so going forward.

We will use the influence we have in Washington to ensure a level playing field for beef production and marketing, and we are using the equity behind the 25-year-old “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” brand to sell beef on its merits in new and interesting ways.

Consumers love the taste of beef. Consumers hold beef producers in high regard. And when it comes to nutrients, we feel that beef offers the most for today’s consumers.

There really is no alternative.

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