Pork cooks on a grill

Pork cooks on a grill. Industry professionals weighed in on the future of animal protein during the Animal Ag Alliance’s 2021 Virtual Stakeholders’ Summit. (Photo credit: Iowa Soybean Association)

Still king: animal protein’s place as taste evolves

May 13, 2021 | Joseph Hopper

What people want to eat may seem to be anyone’s guess today as consumer tastes change, but one thing is certain: animal protein continues its longstanding reign as one of the top items on consumer plates.

Christopher DuBois, senior vice president of protein practice at IRI, says the pandemic represents a major opportunity.

“We saw people cook differently, we saw supply chains challenged and what came out of that was something fascinating,” DuBois says. “We saw the single biggest year of growth in multiple decades. Double digits for the U.S. and well in the teens for the meat department.”

DuBois led a part of a webinar discussing consumer trends and animal protein’s place in the marketplace during the Animal Ag Alliance’s 2021 Virtual Stakeholders’ Summit.

Consumers were not only cooking at home more due to the pandemic but were also experimenting with meals, seeking out new cuts of meat and new products. A trend across all demographics was an increase in specialty and premium animal protein products.

“People learned to bring that restaurant experience home,” says DuBois. “They’re going to continue to drive and look for the premium items. It doesn’t mean they won’t go to a restaurant but what we found was retailers that carried the more expensive meats, like USDA Prime, if they had it and their competition didn’t their sales grew 10% or more.”

Marianne Smith Edge, founder of The AgriNutrition Edge, said today’s consumer is concerned not only about what they eat but how it’s grown. She and fellow panelist Rachel Kopay, of RJK Consulting, say the majority of consumers have a high degree of trust in farmers, but they are concerned about how food production impacts climate change.

The group of panelists said key the key to the future of animal protein is telling the story of agriculture and where food comes from.

“The reality is animal protein is not going away,” Edge says.

“Let’s keep this in perspective,” Kopay says. “Although the rate of growth in alternative protein looks impressive, the overall market share is still one where an industry analyst called this, ‘small enough to be considered a rounding error, or about 1%.’ Let’s face it, the consumer landscape can be confusing.”