Price, eat-at-home dominate post-COVID consumer trends

Price, eat-at-home dominate post-COVID consumer trends

Beef News
LESSONS FROM LOCKDOWN: James Madden, from meat wholesaler Flinders and Co with product marketed as carbon neutral.

LESSONS FROM LOCKDOWN: James Madden, from meat wholesaler Flinders and Co with product marketed as carbon neutral.


Sustainability likely taking a back step in beef consumer wants right now.


RAMPED up retail demand for beef as eat-at-home habits developed through lockdown stick is one of the key shifts in consumer behaviour emerging from COVID.

So too increased price sensitivity courtesy of restricted incomes as an economic downturn sets in.

Meat & Livestock Australia consumer insights work also points to an increased focus on quality and safety as consumers seek out trusted products and a preference for cooking at home as social distancing measures continue.

MLA marketing experts said adaption will be key to overcoming the implications created by these changing consumer dynamics.

Although retail beef sales have slowed after the March 'panic buying' peak, they remain above year-ago levels, with the latest figures, for May, showing sales were 14.4 per cent higher than the same month last year, MLA reported.

While retailers are talking about a definite move towards supporting local producers, suggestions are also emerging that few consumers have the money or inclination to indulge in sustainability concerns anymore.

Melbourne-based meat wholesaler Flinders and Co, one of the first to underpin its brand on carbon neutrality, has been forced to focus heavily on retail offerings to ride out the pandemic storm.

Chief executive James Madden says serious thought was given to binning the carbon neutral program as severe cost-cutting strategies had to be implemented.

While he's glad he didn't take that step now, he does believe sustainability credentials will take a back seat in consumer buying behaviour in the wake of COVID-19 and the economic downturn it has delivered.

He says it's impossible to think consumers who are faced with less income will not change purchasing behaviours in some way and the likelihood is that those who may have factored in ethical and sustainable elements will look more to price.

"A lot of consumers will take a step down the hierarchy of needs and look more to the basics," he said.

"When we had to make big changes to address the pandemic I figured carbon neutral was just a 'nice to have'.

"In hindsight I'm glad I didn't bin the program because it's a big part of our brand differentiation and I think longer-term the sustainability trend will continue."

Flinders and Co was built on supplying branded beef, lamb, pork and poultry to high end restaurants and food outlets. Since the end of 2018, it has been marketing all its products as carbon neutral, using offsets purchased to neutralise emissions from the various livestock production systems.

"We're a food service dominated business and so we were very exposed when COVID hit," Mr Madden told a recent Queensland Rural Press Club online gathering.

"As much as 85 to 90 per cent of our revenue was coming from food service, the rest from a boutique supermarket chain.

"Those revenues fell off a cliff from mid-March. Orders actually hit zero for a period."

When supermarket panic buying started, Flinders and Co's retail orders went through the roof but that only lasted a couple of weeks.

Mr Madden said his revenues stabilised around 25pc and were now up around 40pc of pre-COVID levels.

"Certainly, we had to focus a lot more on our retail stream to survive and we were fortunate we had machinery and packaging equipment set up to do that - we just needed to onboard more retail customers," he said.

"A lot of other food service businesses opened online storefronts selling direct to the consumer. We looked at that but it's a hard model to make successful, so we decided to focus on our retail offering."

Mr Madden said at the time Flinders and Co decided to take the CN path, the research was saying consumers, especially the younger generation, were demanding high benchmarks around sustainability and were willing to put their money where their mouth was.

"The annoying thing about consumers is they are bad observers of their own behaviours," he said.

He is now a little more sceptical about some of the figures the CN decision was based on, like the fact 66pc of consumers say they will pay more for a sustainable food product.

"A lot maybe said what their ideal self might say but when they are in a supermarket with a purchase decision in front of them, the actual number who care about CN and sustainability is a lot less than surveys and data suggest," Mr Madden said.

"It might not be as big a number as the research is indicating, but it is still a decent number and it's growing."

ALSO READ: A chef's view on what beef consumers want

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The story Price, eat-at-home dominate post-COVID consumer trends first appeared on Farm Online.


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