ARKANSAS CITY, KAN. and WESTMINSTER, COLO. —  As consumers demand more transparency from producers of the foods they eat and express increased concerns about not only their own health but the health and welfare of animals, demand for natural meats continues to surge.

Arkansas City, Kan.-based Creekstone Farms is excited about the growing consumer interest in transparent food production, said Jim Rogers, the company’s senior vice president of sales.

Sixty-three percent of consumers want to know more about the who, what, where and how behind their food, according to Midan Marketing research cited by Creekstone.

In addition, one in three consumers specifically looks for claims-based meat, and 42% of meat consumers consider “natural” to be an indicator of quality. Additionally, 43% consider US-raised to be an indicator of quality, 41% of meat consumers consider no-added hormones to indicate quality, and 38% consider no antibiotics ever to indicate quality.

“Transparency opens up many conversations about animal welfare, natural meat production and sustainability – topics we’re proud to discuss because we hold ourselves to such high standards,” Rogers said.

Creekstone has longstanding relationships with cattle producers and, as a result, is able to trace cattle back to their origin. The company’s producer partners, Rogers said, care deeply about the land and livestock, and more and more consumers want to hear their stories. Creekstone’s Natural Black Angus Beef products are raised without antibiotics, added hormones, and using Certified Humane handling practices.

Showcasing farmers and ranchers through video interviews, ranch photography and digital storytelling is essential to getting those messages out to even more future Creekstone customers, he added.

Westminster, Colo.-based Niman Ranch has several new products on tap for 2023, said Alicia LaPorte, the company’s communications director.

For starters, Niman Ranch will debut a 100% grass-fed and grass-finished hot dog. The recipe is the same as the one for the company’s award-winning Fearless Franks. The difference is that it’s made with grass-fed beef.

“It’s a winning combination that aligns with huge jumps in consumer demand for grass-fed beef,” LaPorte said.

Also in 2023, Niman Ranch has plans to expand its line of prepared sausages and deli items in an effort to appeal to consumers looking for new flavors. The company will also debut a new line of premium pork products and expand its case-ready options.

“Innovation is the name of the game in 2023, as we believe there is pent up consumer demand for new options on store shelves,” LaPorte said.

Getting the word out 

As consumers look for transparency in the products and claims they’re purchasing, Creekstone is looking forward to introducing rebranded point of sale materials into the retail meat case, Rogers said.

“From case dividers and consumer brochures to videos of ranchers and some of the nation’s top chefs, we’re working hard to transparently communicate what makes our natural program stand out.”

Across all sectors and regions, Creekstone is continuing to see increased demand for elevated eating experiences, Rogers said. It’s a trend that began during COVID, as consumers recreated restaurant experiences at home, and Creekstone expects it to continue for the foreseeable future.

Ribeyes and tenderloins continue to be top grocery retail sellers for Creekstone, and during the holidays, bone-in ribeye and short loin sales tend to spike.

In addition, Creekstone’s skirt steaks have been popular because of their versatility, Rogers said. And the company also sees different demand depending on the region of the country. Californians, for instance, seem to like tri-tip steaks, while New Englanders prefer sirloin flap.

Across all cuts, though, natural ground beef sales stand out, Rogers said. Natural claims are now listed on 40% of ground beef packages and 20% of beef packages — up from 36% and 17%, respectively, in 2018.

Capturing the natural meat consumer can pay huge rewards for retailers, Rogers said. Natural and organic purchasers tend to be much more engaged with meat than the average meat consumer, according to Midan. They enjoy cooking and prefer package claims that are better for them, the animal and the environment.

Sustainability continues to be a crucial topic in the fresh meat industry, including decision-makers in grocery retail, Rogers said. In terms of meat, 34% of consumers say they’re more concerned with meat sustainability, while 15% said they think about it a “great deal.”

“For this core group of shoppers, sustainability is an important purchase driver. At Creekstone, sustainability is about being a partner to the generational family farms and ranchers who supply our cattle. We believe strongly in offering a premium for sustainable practices and in turn hold our farmers and ranchers to rigorous sustainability and animal welfare standards.”

A higher bar

Five years ago, slapping “natural” on a package was enough for many consumers, LaPorte said. That’s not the case today, especially for premium meat shoppers.

“If you say sustainable, they want to know the acres of cover crops your farmers have planted,” she said. “If you say family farmers, they want to know where the farms are located and how many generations are involved. Consumers want to know the story of their food and how it aligns with their values.”

For Niman Ranch, that’s a huge selling point, thanks to the company’s transparent supply chain and industry-leading sustainable and humane animal care practices, she added.

Eye on California

2023 promises to be a big year for how pigs are raised in California — and, as is so often the case, what starts in California often spreads to the rest of the country.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Proposition 12, the law that will ban the sale of pork in California that is sourced from farms using gestation crates.

“Regardless of the Court’s decision, this topic will be in the news quite a bit in 2023 and demand for true crate-free pork will grow,” LaPorte said.