How the British meat industry can change public perception
The following article was written by Nick Allen, Chief Executive Officer at the British Meat Processors Association and appeared in the November edition of Meat Management magazine. It is reproduced here with their permission
It is particularly important for the meat industry to find better ways to shape perceptions because ours, more than most other industries, tends to be viewed collectively by the general public. When food scares happen, people find it very difficult to differentiate good from bad and so tend to assume all companies are involved.
Food scares often manifest through retailers or restaurant chains, which are the only brands that people recognize. Very little is known about the suppliers that sit behind Wetherspoons, Jamie’s and Tesco and this can lead to a vague assumption that the whole supply chain could be affected. This in turn casts suspicion across the whole meat industry.
In most other industries this sweeping assumption doesn’t happen. In the medical and construction sectors for example, individuals and companies that break the rules are seen as rogue operators rather than typical of the whole industry.
So how should this issue of public perception be dealt with?
First the marketing and brand building of the British meat industry needs to explain more clearly what the industry stands for and why it should inspire confidence amongst consumers.
Currently, much of the marketing focuses on shifting more product by generically encouraging people to eat more meat, but this approach is in danger of treating the symptom rather than the cause. It also leaves people to create their own narrative around meat and the meat industry, driven by the media and other influencers, many of whom are not on our side.
The British meat industry needs to re-imagine how it positions itself and can’t necessarily rely on what has worked in the past.
If our industry is to have any influence over that narrative, we need to change our approach to the debate.
The second angle, which will feed into the marketing of our industry, is what the FSA and FSS are doing to improve standards and compliance across all operators.
The FSA’s final cutting plant review report details 19 recommendations for industry and regulators to implement. These include working more collaboratively and a focus on skills and more effective sharing and use of data to improve consistency of practices and controls.
By focusing on the public’s increasing appetite for clear information about traceability, provenance and standards it should be possible to foster a more differentiated and nuanced perception of our meat industry. This will not only help the majority of companies that are doing it right, but will also form the basis of the case for buying British once we leave the EU and our borders are opened up to products from other jurisdictions with different standards.
The British meat industry needs to re-imagine how it positions itself and can’t necessarily rely on what has worked in the past. We think it’s important to combine standards and enforcement with a better understanding of what’s important to people and what motivates their attitudes and choices.
If we get that right, our messages will resonate much more successfully with the new generation of consumers and we will be able to better contribute to the narrative surrounding meat, diet and food safety.