American Meat Conference 2019 Recap

By Lauren Neuman, APR

Technology talk reigned supreme at the 2019 Annual Meat Conference, with topics including omnichannel, sustainability, traceability, artificial intelligence and digital marketing taking center stage. As consumers’ habits continue to evolve, there’s no doubt technology is dramatically changing the entire industry. Here are a few takeaways from the show:

“The power of food culture”

For the uninitiated, AMC usually concludes with a keynote session exploring the annual Power of Meat study findings.

This year, survey results were presented at the beginning of the conference and focused on the changing food culture and where meat fits in. The survey’s findings were echoed throughout the conference and the message is clear: the meat industry must take advantage of the latest technology to keep up with consumers’ desire for transparency, sustainability and ease of shopping experience.

Omnichannel or bust

Consumers’ changing shopping habits were front and center at the conference. Omnichannel, or shopping across different experiences (think in-store, online, grocery pickup services, etc.) is here to stay, experts agree. By 2030, around 30 percent of grocery shopping will be done online. However, consumers are happiest when they can shop both in-store and online, so the retail experience is as important as ever. This is especially true for products that consumers prefer to buy in person, like meat.

Buying will become increasingly automated for household staples, so retailers will need to elevate in-store shopping for fresh items in order to succeed. Furthermore, the in-store and online experiences should be seamless for the customer.

Transparency and sustainability are still top of mind

Food waste continues to be a huge problem, with 30 to 40 percent of food produced going uneaten. Sustainable packaging can help prolong shelf life while reducing landfill waste. It’s important for the meat industry to continue to explore ways to minimize its impact on the environment.

Transparency is also important to the future of the industry. According to panelist and turkey farmer Don Steen, less than two percent of Americans have any connection to farming. As consumer interest in their foods’ origin stories grows, producers and processors should tell their story so consumers learn who today’s farmers are.

Gen Z and Millennials are shaking things up, as they do

One of the most surprising takeaways from the conference was that nearly a quarter of shoppers, mainly younger ones, buy meat and poultry for one meal at a time, so meat is battling for mindshare on every trip to the store. Less surprisingly, Gen Z and Millennials consume more plant-based protein than other age groups. Nearly half (46 percent) indicated that they already do or definitely would purchase plant-based meat products.

"Beefshi" courtesy of NAMI/Beef Checkoff

The industry is beefing up innovation

The North American Beef Institute and Beef Checkoff program debuted new “beefshi” recipes and has even rolled out a campaign targeted at retailers and foodservice companies, complete with recipes. Beefshi originally made its debut at last year’s AMC, where it received rave reviews.

New ways of buying and preparing food

Meal kit sales went up by 36 percent in 2018 alone, and in-store meal kids accounted for nearly 60 percent of this growth. Twelve percent of consumers had purchased meal kits in the last six months, and 23 percent planned to in the next six months. Meal kit customers tended to skew younger with higher income. The kits represent a huge opportunity for the meat industry, as about 87 percent of in-store meal kits included meat. Beef led with 52 percent, 17 percent contained pork and 16 percent chicken.

Aside from meal kits, new household and cooking technologies are changing the way consumers prepare meals. Smart speakers are simplifying cooking, and more than 40 percent of users keep the speakers in their kitchens. Air fryers, sous vide and the Instant Pot are introducing new cooking methods to the masses.

As technology continues to evolve at breakneck speeds, producers, processors and retailers are keeping pace and can even lead the way. While the tools are changing, the principles remain the same: companies need to know their customer in order to create compelling messaging that breaks through.

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