Consumer outlook session provides key insights into new generation of consumers
By Stuart Estes
Consumers who drive the beef industry have changed over time. And as it has in the past, the beef industry is changing to meet the needs of a new generation of consumers.
At the Architecture of Consumer Demand Session at the 2014 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Cattle Industry Convention, a panel of experts discussed a new generation of consumers and tactics for reaching them with committee members and attendees.
Polly Ruhland, beef checkoff chief executive officer, spoke to attendees about the new target demographic for the beef industry—millennials.
“Millennial are not only our target today,” Ruhland said. “They will be for a long time.”
The millennial generation is composed of individuals born after 1980; these individuals receive and interpret information differently than any generation before them.
The panel consisted of four individuals with a variety of expertise, ranging from foodservice to distribution to blogging.
Amee Livingston, Atlanta, is creator of the food blog Amee’s Savory Dish, which includes healthy recipes for everyday use. Livingston was a member of the panel at the consumer outlook session.
“The millennials are tech savvy, what I like to call the fast food generation,” Livingston said.
Despite the millennials’ ability to master technology, Livingston pointed out that technology is often a hindrance to consumer understanding.
“There’s a lot of confusion out there,” said Livingston, noting that the ease of social media use has caused an influx of “experts.”
Livingston reminded attendees that although consumers may have other things on the mind when it comes to food, price is still an integral factor.
“People want to know the sourcing of their food and feed their family, but affordability is a big factor,” Livingston said.
Another member of the panel was Jason McConnell, the chef and restaurateur who owns three establishments in Franklin, Tenn.—the Red Pony, Cork & Cow and 55 South. McConnell’s experience in the restaurant business gives him insight into the mind of millennial consumers.
“Trying to navigate what people are looking for is tough,” McConnell said.
McConnell made the distinction that unlike older consumers, millennial consumers are concerned with the intangible qualities of the products they purchase, especially with the story behind the food they eat.
“When people ask what they want, they want a story,” McConnell said.
In regard to the story millennials seek, McConnell offered some advice about what the industry should be saying.
“The story doesn’t have to be about that particular animal—it’s about the people behind it,” McConnell said.
Joe Schechinger, senior director of commodity risk management at Wendy’s Quality Supply Chain Co-op, Dublin, Ohio, served as a member of the panel of consumer experts at the outlook session as well.
“Targeted advertising of our consumers is critical,” Schechinger said.
Schechinger also mentioned the importance of not just creating product but also creating product with value, which is of particular importance to millennials.
Steve Sands, vice president of protein for Performance Foodservice, Richmond, Va., was also a member of the panel and spoke to attendees about millennials from the viewpoint of the foodservice industry.
“It’s important for us to consider ourselves as a supply chain,” Sands said. “One of the keys is to offer the consumer what they want.”
Sands reiterated the importance of telling the story of the beef industry to connect with the new generation of consumers.
“Absolutely, there is a story to tell about our commodity,” Sands said. “And I think it’s the people in this room.”
Changing to meet the needs of a new generation of consumers may seem like a daunting task, but with the advice of these panelists in mind, understanding the millennial generation and adapting to meet its needs does not seem like such an arduous undertaking for the beef industry.