AHDB consultation uncovers major concerns over how levy money is spent
As the deadline for consultation responses about AHDB’s performance nears (you need to have your say by 9 November), we take another look at AHDB’s effectiveness in supporting the British meat industry, and offer some constructive suggestions based on feedback from those working at the ‘coalface’.
A couple of common themes have recurred during our conversations with members and other meat industry stakeholders. First, there is a growing concern about the image of meat amongst UK consumers. This covers not only how people view meat as part (or not) of their diet, but also the level of trust and confidence people have about quality, traceability and standards.
Second, the message we’re hearing from the industry is that AHDB are missing the mark when it comes to using levy money to tackle their concerns over the image of meat. The impression is that AHDB have, to some degree, taken their eye off the ball when it comes to setting priorities and deploying the £26 million they collect in meat industry levies.
It’s commonly felt that there needs to be a re-setting of AHDB’s priorities and strategy. They need to focus less on short term product-focused campaigns and more on the type of branding building, marketing, and influence building that will benefit the meat industry over the longer term.
Let’s explain that in more detail.
Shifting public perception is a long game. While trends come and go quickly (generating a lot of ‘noise’ at the time), underlying confidence, understanding of and sentiment towards a product, person, political party or industry is developed over a longer timeframe.
Currently, AHDB have been focusing on delivering short-term, main media marketing campaigns to sell more of a particular type of meat product. The danger is that this summer’s £1m campaign will be a temporary ‘sugar hit’.
We’re sure that the figures in this year’s AHDB performance report will be able to demonstrate a percentage uplift in overall sales of thin-cut steaks and will see additional likes on Facebook. But we also suspect those same consumers who saw an advert or social media post will quickly move on to other tempting things being offered by the next wave of product adverts.
They want AHDB to be doing more grass-roots work around engaging with people and organisations who act as influencers and channels into the public domain.
When it comes to consumer food marketing, you need deep pockets to build meaningful long-term traction – we’re talking years. A one-off campaign of three or four months will result in a short-term sales uplift, but results are likely to tail-off quickly once the campaign finishes.
Our industry colleagues have pointed out that they are quite capable of product advertising, in association with the retailers. What they really want AHDB to use their levies for are the activities they can’t do as individual companies; the big picture things that require a collective pooling of resources and a unified approach across the whole meat and livestock industry.
They want AHDB to be doing more grass-roots work around engaging with people and organisations who act as influencers and channels into the public domain. They would like the focus to be on working cooperatively with organisations like schools, health bodies, regulators and retailers to support their work with consumers so that the industry becomes a much bigger part of the conversation around meat.
£1m would go a long way to forming lasting relationships with these groups and give the industry as a whole a better chance of influencing the debate and shifting perceptions over the longer term.
We do acknowledge the power of mass-market brand building through clever marketing campaigns. Meat and Livestock Australia provides a classic example of how that works well and builds trust in the Aussie meat brand. But it comes at a huge cost, and MLA has very deep pockets.
Here in the UK, we have more limited funds and a bigger audience to reach so we need to be more strategic in how we deploy our funds. It’s easy to chew through a lot of budget very quickly only to find that such a pace of spending can’t be sustained. It can result in a one-off ‘sugar-hit’.
The aim should be instead to build a better public understanding and a bigger pride in British meat through longer-term brand and influence building and leave the product advertising to the manufacturers.
It may move the dial more slowly, but the net result will be a stronger more resilient meat industry that is better equipped to compete in both the domestic and export markets after Brexit.