WASHINGTON – Highlighting the benefits of animal-based foods and telling the story of those benefits to consumers in a relevant way is vital to the future of agriculture. This was the message shared by Chris DuBois, senior vice president of protein practice with IRI during a May 5 presentation at the virtual Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit.

“Meat has so many positive aspects, and I think it gets overlooked sometimes,” DuBois said.

As the industry and culture looks to move beyond the pandemic, Dubois said the industry must consider four major trends to stay relevant: confident cooking, going premium, new occasions and new platforms, and buying out of the store.

“Focus on the confident cooks and the cooking enthusiast,” DuBois said. “This is a big opportunity to drive your sales. Premium cuts and premiumization across categories are a very big deal.”

DuBois said although confident cooks and cooking enthusiasts represented only 30% of shoppers, they drove virtually all the industry growth in meat and seafood.

When it comes to going premium, the shift to more premium brands is happening across socio-economic groups including low-income households and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. Additionally, many premium meats such as crab, lobster and chicken tenderloin outperformed total meat or protein averages. The number of types of cuts consumers bought also increased significantly. Overall, this shows consumers are looking for a restaurant-type experience at home.

“That message of bringing a restaurant meal home is very powerful,” DuBois says.

While the popularity of restaurant-style meals at home will continue, DuBois said he does predict a recovery for the food service industry and believes food service is vital to the economy.

With the growing instance of working from home, there is a large shift in meal occasions with concepts such as air fryers and shoppable recipes becoming more popular.

“These are new opportunities to engage consumers with new occasions and new products,” DuBois said.

In terms of how consumers shop, DuBois said ecommerce has reached a critical mass and will continue to grow at an extremely fast pace.

Through all these trends, Kim Kirchherr, president of K2 Outcomes, said manufacturers and industry leaders need to be thinking about how to tell the story of their animal proteins in a way that relates to consumers and helps them meet their goals. Often, these consumer goals are health-related as 6 in 10 adults in the United States have a chronic disease.

“If we think about the shopper who is going to become our consumer, they are really part of our team,” Kirchherr said.

Kirchherr said the conversation with consumers needs to begin with considerations of how the food industry and modern agriculture came to be in the first place.

For example, she encouraged manufacturers to consider telling the story of why sodium is in products, considering both historically how it was used in foods and why it is in products today. Additionally, she said there is opportunity to explain to the public how animal proteins can be used to help combat iron deficiency as anemia is a public health issue.

When it comes to the growth of meat alternatives, DuBois said while it is a segment that has grown significantly, it remains a small segment and will remain so even with continued growth.

Overall, Kirchherr encouraged the industry to have the courage to communicate exactly how and why their products have come to be.

“Don’t be afraid to look inside of your own story and tell it authentically,” she said.