What shoppers are really willing to pay for

Sustainability not necessarily on the shopping list

Opinion
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Concerns have been raised around the relevance of sustainability measures to farm returns based on a lack of clarity around whether people are willing to pay more for those sustainability value-adds at the check-out.

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The Australian Beef Sustainability Framework 2020 update (as reported in The Land, July 2, p76-77) contains some interesting insights, a few of which wouldn't hurt a few people outside the beef industry to read - as well as those within the industry.

It demonstrates some promising gains in important areas of beef production, including areas of social licence, such as welfare, water use and carbon emissions.

But, concerns have also been raised around the relevance of these to farm returns - a critical factor in overall sustainability of any business - based on a lack of clarity around whether people are willing to pay more for those value-adds at the check-out.

This could be due to the difficulties in measuring some of the indicators like ground cover, soil health, water quality and carbon sequestration - all relevant for building trust and transparency in a climate change focused world.

However, a more pertinent problem could lie with the yardstick for the proportion of people who agree that beef "is an important part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle".

This showed a continued decline from 2017-19, indicating that perceived health benefits are probably bigger drivers of consumption and value than sustainability.

Also read:

Claims beef sustainability work has gone too far

Consumers are king, beef sustainability proponents say

Regardless, it seems there is an increasing number of producers willing to give it a go, given the beef sustainability report shows from 2018 to 2019 the percentage of cattle-producing land managed for environmental outcomes through active management had increased from 52 to 62.5 per cent.

We are though yet to see such measures translate to an increase in the value of beef.

Beef's slipping market share is another ongoing challenge.

So with no clear link between sustainability and beef's value at the checkout, where does the rubber hit the road for farmers?

While most people likely do care about sustainability, how they perceive beef still seems to come down to the original MLA research that showed the eating experience was critical - taste, juciness and tenderness.

Perhaps also why real beef sold out before the fake meat in the rush to secure food amid the coronavirus panic.

Day to day though, convenience and price in a busy, modern world is hard to beat. And who really has time to take in the details of a product, especially when an increasing number of shoppers also struggle to even make the connection of their mince to a cow.

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