Consumer perceptions around the red meat industry's sustainability, environmental and animal welfare credentials are becoming increasingly positive, new research shows.
Consumption trends have remained fairly stable through a year of drought, bushfires, record livestock prices and a global health pandemic.
Highlights of the latest consumer sentiment research commissioned by Meat & Livestock Australia were outlined by Sarah Hyland at a beef sustainability webinar.
Each June, surveys are conducted across metropolitan Australia by external research agency Pollinate to collate the market intelligence.
The research showed cost and health remain the primary reason 28 per cent of metropolitan Australians are reducing their consumption of red meat.
More than twice the number of people who are reducing their consumption are doing so due to cost rather than animal welfare concerns.
Concern about environmental impact comes in after cost and health.
Still, the proportion of red meat 'reducers' hasn't shifted, nor has the number of people who identify as vegetarian.
Interestingly, 39 per cent of people who see themselves as vegetarian still eat meat and 68 per cent eat dairy.
"As it turns out, it's pretty hard yakka to be a true vegetarian and even when you claim to be vegetarian, you're often really a flexitarian," Ms Hyland said.
"The proportion of true vegetarians and vegans is around 4 per cent in metropolitan Australia."
Ms Hyland reported overall meat consumption has remained stable and beef has held its high penetration rate - 95 per cent of Australian households buy beef at least 23 times a year and mince is the most popular choice.
Price has been increasing at a higher rate for beef and lamb over time, versus other proteins. Beef's price index to chicken is now 184 per cent. Lamb's is 215 per cent.
The latest Pollinate work showed people are hearing more positive messages about beef and lamb. Still, only 50 per cent of the sample had heard something positive. About 40 per cent had heard something negative.
Perceived industry knowledge overall has increased but when it comes to specifics around environmental impact and animal welfare, people are more likely to feel uninformed.
The research also showed industry bodies and health professionals are still important information sources but supermarkets, butchers and manufacturers are becoming more important.
Producers on the webinar said 50 per cent was not a high figure and asked about ways to change that.
That's the $64,000 question, Ms Hyland said, but a good start was being open, honest, clear and reiterating messaging in ways that are accessible and not intimidating.
Indeed, trust has been one of the key consumer behaviour changes to emerge from COVID-19, the executive director for the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef Ruaraidh Petre told the webinar.
"There has been a return by consumers to looking for what they know - local products, brands they're familiar with, shops they have always been to," he said.
"But also an increased interest in transparency. Consumers want more information to feel justified in their choices.
"The thing about methane, for example, is they've heard something negative - they've heard it's an issue and so they are now asking questions about it."
Mr Petre said there was no shortage of organisations looking to spread negative messages, for varying reasons.
That reinforces the importance of getting the true information out, webinar organisers said.