How beef checkoff is reaching millennials | TSLN.com

How beef checkoff is reaching millennials

Millennials were a big topic of discussion at the 66th Annual South Dakota Cattlemen's (SDCA) Convention and Trade Show held on Dec. 2-4 in Aberdeen, S.D.

The Millennial audience – those born between 1980 and 2000 – is a big target consumer for the beef industry, as they are the largest generation in the U.S. population, representing one-third of the U.S. population in 2013.

John Lundeen, National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) senior executive director of market research, discussed how the Beef Checkoff Program is working to reach Millennials through research, promotion and education.

"My job is to listen to the consumer and hear what they are worried about," said Lundeen. "Millennials look at beef as being pretty safe because the industry has been able to stay out of the news, as of late. This is thanks to the efforts of the beef checkoff and steps taken at the processor and retail chains, along with efforts made at the cow-calf and feedlot sectors to follow Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) protocols. You just can't put a dollar amount on a mom feeling safe about feeding her kids beef."

The long-range plan of the beef checkoff program is to improve domestic consumer preference for beef, capitalize on global opportunities, strengthen the image of beef and the beef industry, protect and enhance ranchers' freedom to operate and improve industry trust amongst consumers. Lundeen focuses on improving trust and strengthening beef' image in the public.

"The beef demand index is strong," said Lundeen. "After several years of decline, demand has started to increase, as evidenced by strong prices. Our research shows there are three things driving beef demand – food service, ground beef sales and the millennial audience."

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In food service, Lundeen said that pounds of beef sold have nearly recovered to pre-recession levels, and wholesale beef value is up $7.58 per pound from 2009.

"Record beef prices was big news in the press this past year," he said. "What has started to happen is experts – not our experts – are starting to tell restauranteurs to be careful about putting new beef items on the menu because it might hurt their margins. As a result, restaurants have been focusing on other protein options. With the beef checkoff, we've been able to change the dialogue and redirect the conversation from the idea that beef is hurting restaurant margins to beef is ringing the cash register. It's hard to advertise the high price of beef, but our consumers are still buying it. We haven't reached a point where they are balking at the price."

Lundeen said that 40 percent of the time, it's millennials who are eating and enjoying beef, more so than any other generation. Generation X makes up 29 percent of beef's customers, and Baby Boomers make up 31 percent. In food service, millennials make up 42 percent of customers dining on beef at restaurants, while gen X is at 30 percent, and boomers are 28 percent. Meanwhile, at the grocery store, Millennials still make up the bulk of beef purchases at 39 percent, while gen X is at 29 percent, and boomers are at 32 percent of the customer base.

"Millennials are 80-million people strong," said Lundeen. "Through our research, we know that Millennials are developing their food interests. Most of us decide what we like to eat in our 20s. They are also starting to have families and making decisions about what kind of meals they will cook for their children. Most of them love beef, but their beef knowledge is low. They don't necessarily feel confident in cooking beef and choosing the right cut. They also worry about ruining beef while cooking because it's expensive. They are also very keen to understand where their food comes from, so they want to know the rancher behind their beef. They are also a very busy generation, so they need to know how to cook beef in fast and easy ways for busy weeknight meals."

Lundeen has interviewed Millennials via online polls and focus groups. What he has discovered is millennials rank beef the highest in terms of taste and satisfaction, but they also have concerns about beef.

"Millennials enjoy eating beef, but are turned off by some of the perceived negative health associations linked to it," he said. "Millennials prefer leaner beef cuts because it has less fat, which is unfortunate because we know that marbling creates for a great beef eating experience. Through our polls, we learned that 75 percent of Millennials polled would like information about steaks and how to cook and prepare them. Another 54 percent say its hard to know which cuts to choose for which recipe. Meanwhile, 55 percent would like more information on preparing and serving beef to children with kid-friendly recipes. We also found that 81 percent of millennials show at least some concern about factory farming."

Lundeen said the goal of the Beef Checkoff Program is to "strengthen beef's worth," and reaching millennials through online social media platforms is one way to grow beef demand domestically by providing information daily about beef nutrition and safety, as well as recipe ideas and tips for cooking different cuts.

Closer to home, the South Dakota Cattlemen's Auxiliary (SDCA) is also working hard to promote beef to the millennial audience. SDCA President Laurie Johnson, of South Shore, S.D. shared some of the organization's most recent beef promotion projects, funded by the Beef Checkoff Program.

"We recently had a booth at the Expo For Her conference in Sioux Falls where we were able to reach millennial women and share fun, seasonal beef recipes for them to try this winter" she said.

Although beef is more expensive right now, there are plenty of ways to enjoy it while on a budget. This has been another area of focus for SDCA, Johnson said.

"We also recently reached out to local food pantries, as well as college kids, offering Beef Bucks to both groups, so that kids and needy families who are on budgets can have beef in their diets," said Johnson. "We hosted a cooking class at one of the food pantries and demonstrated some budget-friendly beef recipes for the families to try."

The recipes shared included Beef Shepards Pie, Spaghetti Pie, and Applesauce Meatloaf – all budget-friendly family recipes that could be prepared in a simple pie tin.

Another project has been working with EmBe (Empowering You To Be), which is a mentorship program for young girls that is held after school. Although it's not the millennial demographic, SDCA felt it was important to share beef sticks with these young girls to help fuel their afternoon activities with EmBe. Johnson said the girls really responded well to the beef sticks, and they hope to continue working with the organization in the future.

Whether it's through social media or at an event, reaching Millennials through multiple channels will be key to driving beef demand in the future, says Lundeen. This demographic of consumer loves beef and wants more of it.