BEEF has missed the point if it thinks the battle with fake meat is about truth in labelling.
What has to be understood, and tapped into, is the trend that is putting stuff like laboratory-grown burgers and vegetarian mince in people’s mouths.
Given the natural raw product Australian cattle producers have, the opportunity is there to put people with demands around animal welfare and the environment on the path to something real and nutritious instead.
It’s time beef built some capability in communications.
This was the story delivered by experienced beef industry executive Tom Maguire, from prominent red meat processor and exporter Teys, this morning at the Royal Queensland Show.
Mr Maguire told an audience of more than 700 beef and agribusiness leaders, journalists and politicians at the Ekka breakfast hosted by the Rural Press Club in Brisbane, that it was time the beef industry got to know the rest of Australia and kicked off the conversation about animal welfare.
There are big lessons to be learned from Woolworth’s new vegetarian mince and the fact is was controversially displayed in the meat aisles, according to Mr Maguire.
“It’s not about Woolies trying to convert meat eaters to vegetarianism. It’s about tapping into that market of meat eaters who want to feel better about themselves, who want to tick the animal welfare and environment boxes.
“Let’s sell our story and let them have something real and nutritious that does that.”
In a nation where public opinion about agriculture is so often shaped by agenda-driven groups and social media, Mr Maguire outlined why a new way forward is necessary, where producers and processors work together to show consumers what they do.
“The gut feel is the general Australian public is going their separate way to us at the moment,” he said.
“Today 61 per cent of Australians live in two cities and 82pc live in the top 50 centres.
“Since 1991, 6.8m new people have joined Australia and in the same period, 300,000 less are living in the areas where we do business.
“So less and less Australians have that natural connection. They don’t wake up next to agriculture, they wake up next to concrete.
“They are concerned about city stuff. They are annoyed at Coles and Woolies because they can’t get plastic bags anymore.
“They don’t understand our issues and don’t get what we do.”
Why does it matter that they do?
“Ultimately every dollar we get comes from someone putting their hand in their pocket and paying for one of our products,” Mr Maguire said.
In the process of launching a recent new brand in South Australia, Teys’ conducted extensive consumer research and “consumers told us directly to get right animal welfare and the environment,” he said.
“The reality is we don’t buy anything because we read a list of ingredients in the shop.
“We buy on gut feel, then take it home and try to justify the purchase - that’s just basic neuroscience.
“The good news is we have the product to tick these boxes - natural, healthy, environmentally friendly, animal welfare.”
Beef needs to start filling the ‘information vacuum’ with messages that are open, authentic and transparent.
Our friends at Greenpeace, Animals Australia and the World Wildlife Fund are far better at connecting with people and getting them engaged on social media, Mr Maguire said.
“They are talking about our issues whether we like it or not, and they are doing it without us at the table,” Mr Maguire said.
It was up to each individual company and player to sell the benefits the industry brings, not just at a macroeconomic level but at a regional and local level.
“A beef processing plant means a town has a local hospital, a police force, a vibrant community,” Mr Maguire said.
The public outcry around drought is proof “there is care there,” he argued.
And it’s not just what we communicate but with whom.
“We have to concentrate on the segment of the population that we most want to influence,” Mr Maguire said.
“We won’t ever win the day with that 10pc (of the population who identify as vegetarians).
“We want to be responding to that far bigger group by showing them they can consume meat and be assured welfare and the environment is right.
“We don’t want to get into a huge debate with the people who don’t want us on earth but rather to talk to the people who influence the public but can also understand we are vital to Australia.”