This is the second instalment in a three-part series on millennial consumers and the opportunities for the Canadian beef producers in better understanding this demographic. Look for Part Three in the March 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen. You can read Part One here.
When it comes to purchasing and consuming Canadian beef, millennials make a major impact.
Through restaurants and takeout, millennial males spend the most money each month on beef, according to research conducted by Canada Beef in 2018. Meanwhile, women between 18 and 55, and millennial females in particular, are most involved in beef shopping and meal planning.
In response to the pandemic, this demographic is engaging with beef at a new level.
“We all, at the end of the day, have to eat,” says Michele McAdoo, executive director of communications with Canada Beef. The COVID-19 pandemic, she explains, has prompted many millennials to cook more frequently at home, increasing their culinary skills and creating a greater appreciation of food.
When marketed strategically to millennials to highlight its nutrition, there’s a great opportunity to extend this appreciation to beef further. For millennials as a whole, nutrition and health tend to be important factors in lifestyle decisions. However, a person can either favour or eschew beef, based on their beliefs about nutrition. A study on consumer behaviour and perception of the Canadian beef industry commissioned by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) in 2020 found that millennials tend to view beef as a healthy, high-quality product.
On the other hand, the study revealed that Canadians in general are choosing to eat more chicken and seafood and less beef and pork. As well, millennials are choosing protein alternatives more regularly, a decision related to cost and perceptions about nutrition and environmental impact.
Consumer insight findings from 2019 by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef found that although younger Canadians are more likely to prefer plant-based proteins, in general 40 per cent of Canadians prefer animal proteins, 19 per cent prefer plant-based and 37 per cent have equal preference.
The 2020 Nourish Network Trend Report anticipates plant-based proteins becoming mainstream options. However, the report’s authors predict the conversation on “real food” to intersect with this trend.
“Many consumers moved to veganism for health reasons but are now ending up eating a more processed diet,” the report states with regard to these alternatives.
This paradox offers an opportunity to connect with a health-conscious generation. At the start of March 2020, Canada Beef launched a campaign called My Canadian Beef.
“The goal of the campaign is to counter some of the negative stories about beef by emphasizing the positive — that Canadian beef is nutritious, single-ingredient, sustainably raised and delicious,” says McAdoo.
Nutritious options that are also convenient are important to many millennials due to their busy, active lifestyles. A blog post by the delivery app DoorDash reported that “73 per cent of millennials put in more than 40 hours of work per week, and more than 60 per cent of families today have two working parents.” With less time available for meal preparation, this generation is three times more likely than their baby boomer parents to order food delivery.
Understanding this, Canada Beef has worked with Hello Fresh, a meal kit company, as part of its most recent consumer campaigns.
“We know meal kits are something that’s really growing, and you’re seeing more and more companies coming about,” says McAdoo. This, in particular, targets the urban millennial audience, which fits into the organization’s focus on Canada’s larger urban centres.
McAdoo highlighted the two separate groups to consider when marketing to this demographic: millennials with families and younger, single millennials.
“As the single people move into that family world, we can provide them and offer them support because they’re in two different mindsets,” she says. “As the next generation comes through, I think we’re always going to have that discussion on cooking skills.”
Culinary engagement with beef rising
A U.S. survey from the earliest days of the pandemic found that millennial consumers drove the surge in meat purchasing, with 84 per cent of millennials concerned about the future availability of meat, compared to 64 per cent of the general population. As well, this group was storing and freezing more meat, as “millennials tend to have kids at home and ensuring they have enough food to feed their families is paramount.”
This was also true in Canada, and the team at Canada Beef saw this response reflected in their user engagement. Despite an increase in ordering food delivery during the pandemic, millennials used the extra time at home during quarantines to hone their culinary skills.
“We knew consumers stocked up on beef from the grocery store, and while they’re in their kitchens ready to cook, many needed help with recipes, serving suggestions, cooking instructions and storage tips,” says McAdoo.
This led Canada Beef to adapt its two new campaigns launched in early 2020 to meet this demand. They provided new content on how to cook different cuts of beef and on trying new techniques to switch up their meals. Use of the Canada Beef website by consumers aged 25-34 increased by 37 per cent, with users seeking out new recipes and ideas.
“As time went on, we started to recognize they’re getting kind of bored with what they’re doing, that you can only make those basics so many times, and then you’re starting to look for some other ideas,” says Joyce Parslow, Canada Beef’s executive director of consumer marketing. “So we got a little more adventurous as we went along.”
Working with influencers
The challenges of 2020 allowed Canada Beef to try new tactics for online communication with consumers. For the My Canadian Beef campaign, they worked with different online platforms, such as Daily Hive, Narcity and Curiocity, all of which provide recommendations for events, restaurants and activities in cities throughout Canada.
This included polls on Daily Hive and the Weather Channel, “just to see how people reacted to questions around beef and the environment,” says McAdoo. “We were able to take that learning and then be able to create other social posts and articles to support and explain the facts.”
Working with third parties to share Canada Beef’s message has been particularly successful because they’ve found the indirect route is the best way to reach millennial consumers. While working with influencers, they’ve noticed the influencers have a bigger effect on the millennial market than Gen X or baby boomers, says McAdoo.
“They don’t want to hear it from the company or the agency or the organization; they would look to other influencers to offer their opinion and their ideas,” McAdoo adds.
By collaborating with experts who have some distance from the organization, as well as their own audiences, they can share the message in a way that consumers don’t perceive as biased. While a few of the influencers that Canada Beef has partnered with on the My Canadian Beef campaign are beef producers, others are nutritionists, chefs and conservation experts. Those experts bring their own knowledge to the conversation.
Recently, Canada Beef sponsored a webinar-based cooking lesson with chef and home economist Emily Richards, who shared a method for cooking eye of round roast.
Richards showed viewers how “to carve it up so it could be a rolled and stuffed roast as a way for easy holiday entertaining with something that’s very economical from a beef standpoint but is quite a showstopper,” says Parslow. “We provide the recipe, we provide the strategy behind it and the key speaking points, and then they’re the distribution outlet and the spokespeople.”
Another successful partnership was with Olympic hurdler Sage Watson, who was raised on a beef operation in Alberta.
“It was a really great connection to have her background to talk about beef farming and ranching,” says McAdoo. “Then she brought the side of why she ate beef, how it helped her with her sports world, and we also then received a whole new audience, especially on the sporting side.”
The indirect approach has proved to have more of an impact than targeting the consumer directly. “We found that when we go to them directly, sometimes we get some big slap-back, especially if we’re doing things on social (media),” says Parslow. “We did a campaign outreach to talk to young moms about the importance of eating iron-rich foods like beef as one of baby’s first foods.”
While that approach resulted in some negative responses, an indirect campaign with the same message shared by professional curler Rachel Homan and her team yielded an overwhelmingly positive response from consumers.
“It’s another new audience, it’s people involved in the sport of curling, and… when it’s coming from someone they love, they have a harder time tearing your message down. They’re just a friendlier group of people.”