Australians have always been enthusiastic when it comes to fresh meat. Over time, however, Australians are eating less of it. While total volumes of meat increased by 1% to reach 1.9 billion tonnes in 2014, per capita consumption has fallen from 83.5kg per person in 2009 to 80.9kg per person in 2014.
The main reasons for this are health concerns and social movements that encourage consumers to lower their everyday consumption of meat. This has given rise to a new premium in fresh meat, meat which is ethically sourced and raised, and otherwise known as “happy” meat.
Not vegetarian or pescetarian, but flexitarian
During 2009-14, beef and veal has witnessed the largest fall in total volume sales, whilst poultry has experienced the highest increase. Changing consumer preferences and price have been driving these trends.
Source: Euromonitor International
Rather than forgoing meat altogether though, Australians are giving consideration to where and how the meat has been raised. Global social movements such as Meat Free Week urge consumers to ‘eat less, care more, feel good’, and initiatives such as Meat Free Mondays encourage meat eaters to take a day off meat for the benefit of the planet and their health.
As a way of coping with the high costs of ethical eating, industry players are championing eating quality over quantity. As a result, consumers are increasingly adopting the flexitarian diet (meat reduction rather than elimination of meat) and looking for more ethical, higher quality meat.
Organic, free-range and grass-fed labelling
As consumers ask more questions about the environmental impact of food and animal welfare conditions, meat labelling is changing, with cleaner labels containing buzz words such as organic, free-range and grass-fed becoming more apparent.
Largely driven by supermarkets and also the overseas market, organic meat is one such area to watch in the future. According to the Australian Organic Market Report, beef was the second fastest growing category, after dairy, in 2014. This is despite organic costing almost double the price of conventional meat, and non-organic food in Australia consistently testing very low in risk of chemical residue. Largely due to the positive perception it has on health, in what has been dubbed the “halo effect”, consumers are associating various benefits with organic produce, including a better taste.
The demand for grass-fed beef is also on the increase, both through foodservice and the grocery aisles, whereas ten years ago it was all about grain-fed beef. Consumers are becoming better educated about the difference between grass- and grain-fed cattle, and choosing more ethical production over apparent better taste. Even though grass-fed products are more expensive, by as much as 30%, demand is growing due to them being considered more “natural” and boasting a better environmental footprint.
Australia is not alone in this regard
At a global level, there has also been a shift to consume less fresh meat. Over the past five years, total meat volumes have dropped by 2% in North America and 1% in Western Europe. More tellingly, this represents a 6% decline in per capita meat volumes in North America and a 3% decline in Western Europe.
In Western Europe, for example, veal is undergoing a massive shift in consumer opinion, as good-quality veal can be produced without undue animal suffering. Great strides have been made over the last decade, and efforts are ongoing. In the UK, such measures include exclusively “pink” veal sales, from calves reared at low population densities in well-ventilated barns. The calves have a varied diet, resulting in meat of a colour similar to standard beef, rather than the “white” hues characteristic of veal raised on a nutritionally inadequate diet and prevalent in countries with a tradition of veal consumption, such as France, Germany and Switzerland.
In the USA, butcher Kate Kavanaugh has inadvertently become the poster girl of the “happy” meat movement. A former vegetarian who rediscovered her love for meat, she urges consumers to ‘eat better meat less often’, even if this message may be incongruous for a butcher. Sourcing all her meat from within 150 miles and encouraging rotational grazing practises, Kavanaugh embodies the millennial generation’s quest for sustainable and humane meat, evident – though admittedly still a niche market – across developed markets.
This article was first published in Food & Drink Business in August 2015