By Blaine Davis, Contributing Editor

Putting another year behind us and it still seems we can’t shake this new “normal” with continuing virus cases and the politics that surround it. Spending much time behind closed doors and with limited excursions, I long for earlier times when things seemed simpler and every angle of news or what is called news wasn’t bombarding me from all directions. In the past, I could arm myself with print media, ranging from my local newspaper to the Sunday editions of the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post.

Each weekend I was immersed in newsprint that covered my living room floor with features of western lifestyle; ski and fishing reports by the late Charlie Meyers; sports ranging from the smallest high school playing six-man football to the NFL; crossword puzzles to tease my brain; and what I considered unbiased news reporting. Gone are those days, as the Rocky Mountain News was absorbed by the Post, and I can’t even find the latter in western Kansas. It seems everyone now receives their news through electronic formats of social media, but for a traditionalist, or “old goat” like me, there is something about rattling the newspaper and getting ink smudges on my fingertips.

Recently, I was rewarded with such by my local newspaper providing a front page headline, “Beef-Eating Trends.” Usually such topics of American agriculture are relegated to back pages and, more often than not, are derisive and unfavorably biased. This article, penned by Alice Mannette of the Hutchinson News, covered a presentation to the December 2021 Kansas Livestock Association Annual Convention in Wichita. Midan Marketing, a firm specializing in animal protein marketing, researched what U.S. consumers like in protein and how consumer tastes have changed since the pandemic.

Danette Amstein of Midan Marketing reported that 2019 research discovered, bullish (no pun intended, or maybe so) to the beef industry, vegetarians are not growing by leaps and bounds. Further, she reported consumer purchasing habits have changed markedly since the pandemic. These consumers can be categorized by age or, as the report put it, generations.

The report says many people in every generation eat beef, pork or chicken and can be grouped as being primarily meat eaters; others are flexitarians, eating animal and plant-based proteins; pescatarians, those eating fish and plant-based proteins; and vegetarians/vegans, who do not eat meat. Upwards of 75 percent of the population are meat eaters, with flexitarians accounting for approximately one-fifth of the population and the remaining percentage to the other categories.

To further define the meat-eaters, Baby Boomers/traditionalists or “old goats” like me and many in Generation X think every meal needs to be full of protein, whether it’s a perfectly seared ribeye steak, backyard-grilled hamburger or a slow-roasted prime rib roast for Christmas dinner. Following these groups are the Millennials, often labeled adventurous and, according to Amstein, “They’re 25 to 40 years old, and are at the prime of their meat-purchasing years.” They are the highest spending generation with a buying power of $2 billion per family.

After the Millennials, are the “protein progressives.” Younger than Millennials and Generation X, she said, “These folks are fun and looking for an interesting meal.”

They like all protein, including vegetable, fish and plant-based. Further segmenting the consumers are three additional groups of convenience chasers, family-first people and wellness divas.

Convenience chasers are price-conscious; they clip coupons and look for promotions. Quick and easy is their primary goal. Family-first people love to cook and gather for a meal. They tend to lean toward animal-based protein. In this group, the consumer, usually the mother, is looking for sustainability and health.

“She’s more interested in our natural and organic type products that we have available to us,” Amstein said. Then there are the wellness divas who are attempting to eliminate meat. This category, according to Amstein, prefers chicken and plant-based proteins. These people are health and wellness focused. With good news to the beef industry, the pandemic has seen this group shrink from 12 percent in January 2019 to 8 percent in September 2020. Seeing similar metrics, both the family-first and traditionalists are also decreasing. But the convenience chasers and protein progressives have increased from 4 to 9 percent since the pandemic.

When the pandemic hit, meat became scarce with empty grocery stores shelves and coolers, so consumers turned to the internet. By March 2021, 57 percent of consumers purchased meat and chicken online. In April 2020, the figure was just 21 percent. According to Amstein, consumers had not wanted other people to pick out their meat. But as lockdowns continued, that figure changed dramatically. Consequently, during COVID, about 90 percent of the people, like this “old goat,” were cooking at home. As restrictions eased, that number has only fallen about 10 percent, significantly higher than the pre-pandemic rate of 50 percent. Amstein anticipates the trend will continue as most consumers who have tried it are satisfied with online purchasing. In conjunction with this scenario, more people are aware of protein alternatives and sustainability issues.

“I believe strongly that sustainably managed livestock systems must play a critical role in global food and nutrition security,” Amstein said. “But to successfully feed a growing world population, it is also clear we need to scale up sustainable production that minimizes environmental impacts.”

To have a successful cattle industry, ranchers need grass and clean water. Often, the water that their cattle drink comes from the same place as the water their family drinks. In addition, cattle cost money and, as their primary sustainable resource, ranchers are concerned their cattle remain healthy. The Millennials, who are spending billions of dollars on food, are also concerned with sustainability. Amstein said, along with stories and appropriately labeled packages stating the amount of protein in each cut, many consumers want transparency. She said 86 percent of Millennial mothers are concerned about knowing more about their meat.

“These moms say, ‘I will pay more for a product that is transparent because I want to know what’s going into it’ because trust and truth are held very high in the decisions they make,” Amstein said. “They want to know the truth, and they want to know that they can trust us and everything that we are doing.”

Recapping “Beef-Eating Trends,” I believe that Midan Marketing and Danette Amstein have provided the Kansas Livestock Association possibly a “road map” of where to steer their next marketing efforts. For me with my newsprint ink smudges and the rustling of paper, I find some glimmer of hope as their research provided contradictive and positive numbers to what many would like us to think animal agriculture’s future is. As an “old goat” I just may let someone else pick out my meat and join the online purchasing group.