KANSAS CITY, MO. – Concerns about environmental sustainability, animal welfare and nutrition have grown among consumers and the public health community in developed countries over the years. And whether intentional or not, the spotlight has begun to negatively portray animal protein production in some cases. However, Marianne Smith Edge, founder/principal of The AgriNutrition Edge and speaker at the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit, assured those in the meat industry all is well.

“We are here today to confirm that animal protein is here to stay,” she said during a May 5 presentation addressing the industry’s image. “And with some repositioning and polishing the shine will return to the star.”

Smith cited the rise of obesity in the United States with the rise of malnutrition globally along with the challenge of feeding more people with less land in the last 15 years, public health and policy experts have questioned whether current diets will survive if environmental impact is not considered. Today, 94 countries have food-based dietary guidelines similar to the United States and more than 50% of those have environmental sustainability considerations relevant to animal-based foods. And while American consumers might not consider these guidelines a top priority, the fact is they do influence policy.

Smith went on to say that regardless of facts surrounding animal-based protein nutrition versus alternative protein nutrition, consumers today often view alternative proteins through a different lens.

“In fact the nutritional data may not support the health halo that these plant-based alternatives provide considering the choice may align more with personal values,” Smith said. “In reality, it’s not about what I eat, it’s about what I eat and how it’s grown.”

Climate change and how food production affects it top the list of current consumer concerns. But Smith said the data trends show animal protein will remain on plates. Things will change, though. For example, there will continue to be a growing percentage of flexitarians as the years progress.

Consumer trends have shown that animal protein is not going away, but today’s consumer is looking for more of a variety and some balance when they select proteins. Smith said headlines from trendy restaurants and companies talking about the total elimination of animal proteins most likely do not warrant any real attention from the animal protein industry.

“It is about balancing the plate.” Smith said. “…It’s not an either or, it’s an and.”

Rachel Kopay, Rachel Kopay, Food & Agribusiness Consulting, RJK Consulting, discussed strategies in marketing an innovation animal protein companies to overcome the challenges from the new competition of non-animal protein producers.

“We know that we’re not going to stop eating meat,” Kopay said. “And last year we even got a big bump.”

She said it’s easy to feel like the traditional meat industry is under attack from animal welfare and environmental groups, and from well-intentioned yet misinformed consumers seeking transparency and authenticity. In addition, the retail sector will always try to appeal to the latest consumer trends, which currently include non-animal proteins.

Kopay suggested the animal protein industry adopt some of the strategies that the new and trendy competitors use for its own advantage. A key for Beyond Meat’s success has been positioning itself in the meat category, not frozen, for example.

“Animal protein can compete by continuing to drive convenience and fresh,” she said. “while emphasizing nutritional benefits. Using branding and packaging to connect with consumer values is an opportunity to tell your farmer’s story.”

Other key takeaways for animal meat industry players include innovating and understanding the new models provided by start-up alternative protein companies and adjusting them to fit the animal meat strategy.

 “Work smart to maintain global consumer belief that animal protein is the star of the plate and collaborate,” Smith said. “Planet and personal health is not one or the other when it comes to animal- or plant- based food. It’s the importance of working together to create a sustainable solution for all.”