Dennis Sun: The Consumers’ Trust

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By Dennis Sun, Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Anyone in the meat business, from the grocery store manager to the meatpacker, the feeder and the producer, realize they need consumers’ trust. This trust must not be taken for granted, nor does it come cheap.

For the past three years, everyone in the meat business has been worried about consumers’ meat buying habits during the pandemic. Plant-based meat products were coming on strong, and there was a beef shortage in grocery stores.

People were pointing fingers, and it got kind of nasty as prices for live cattle, lambs and pigs fell. Everyone muddled through the first year as best as they could. The meatpackers started to make huge profits, and they all had a bull’s-eye on their backs. The main issue was how to keep line workers healthy. Also, there was a fire at one plant.

There was a silver lining for some with the beef shortage – consumers started buying lamb products and learning to cook them. They realized they had been missing out on a great source of protein.

In February 2022, a new monthly report was published by Purdue University providing insight on consumer food demand, spending, satisfaction, food security and other food sustainability behaviors.

In the first survey, which included 1,200 consumers across the U.S., results found 25 percent of respondents were unable to find a specific food product at the grocery store. One of the issues related to finding products is some grocery stores are always changing products from one isle to another.

Thirty-two percent of respondents were waiting for their next paycheck to buy groceries. Free money helped some people on this issue, but others just bought bigger TVs, thinking the money wouldn’t end.

Sixteen percent of respondents faced food insecurity. This really affected mothers of infants needing formula.

Fifty-one percent of respondents blamed COVID-related shutdowns at packing plants for the rise in meat prices. In most instances, this was true. 

Less than 10 percent of respondents failed to recognize packer concentration was a real issue and didn’t realize the huge profits packers were receiving as a result.

Around 25 percent of respondents mentioned they were unable to find certain items in the grocery store. The most commonly mentioned missing items were chicken, beef and dairy products.

The December 2022 Survey found households food expenditures increased more than 15 percent from the first of the year, consumers began shopping at discount stores more and spending less on discretionary expenses, 36 percent of consumers were worried about being able to afford holiday gifts this year, 14 percent of consumers continue to find certain items out of stock compared to 25 percent the first of the year, and sugar was the most common item consumers limited in their diets in 2022.

Food security and sustainability are big issues with consumers and significantly influence the direction of food and agricultural systems. As producers of food products and meat, we need to be aware of consumers’ trends so we can adapt and keep their trust.

The Wyoming Livestock Roundup is a weekly agriculture newspaper available in print and online. To subscribe, visit wylr.net or call 800-967-1647.

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