Winning over millennials

Overall millennials see beef production less favourably than other generations, but sharing positive stories and making personal connections can win longtime fans

A flank steak. Nutrition, quality and cost are some of the factors millennials interviewed for this story cited when buying beef.

This is the final instalment in a three-part series on millennial consumers and the opportunities for Canadian beef producers to better understand this demographic. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Junelle Dion is a fan of Canadian beef, and directly supporting a rancher makes purchasing beef even more satisfying.

“I love Canadian beef. I’ve travelled to other countries, and honestly, no other beef compares to what we have in Canada,” says Dion, who lives south of Calgary with her fiancé.

Living outside the city, Dion prefers to stock up on groceries every two weeks and buys beef about once a month. When a co-worker told her about their daughter buying beef from a local producer, she wanted to learn more.

“I had never thought about purchasing beef directly from the farmer,” she says. “I went online to see what they offered, but they were selling their beef by the quarter, half or whole. I wasn’t interested in purchasing my beef in those quantities, so I continued to search online, and I found TK Ranch.”

Dylan and Colleen Biggs of TK Ranch at Coronation, Alta., started direct marketing their grass-finished beef in the 1990s, and their brand now includes pasture-raised pork and grass-finished lamb. Their products and vision were just what Dion was looking for, and she’s purchased beef from them for three years.

“When I was young, I spent time on my grandparents’ farm in Saskatchewan. I have a lot of great memories on the farm, and I also remember that it was a lot of work for my grandparents,” she says. “Once I knew that I could purchase beef from the farmer, I knew I wanted to support the farmer directly.”

TK Ranch’s offering of individual cuts and delivery service appeals to her, as does their commitment to stewardship of endangered native grasslands, allowing for livestock to share the landscape with species at risk. “I was aware that fescue grass in Alberta has been diminishing over the years and is very important to the health of the Prairies,” she adds.

Dion is one of the millennial consumers who shared her perspectives on beef with Canadian Cattlemen. This small sample of consumer interviews features millennials who all enjoy beef and have positive impressions of the Canadian beef industry, so it’s important to note this isn’t a general representation of this generation’s attitudes, as discussed later. But it does provide an idea of why some millennials do choose to eat beef, what their values are and how they buy it.

Affordability and value are key considerations when Rebecca Wells purchases groceries, especially in light of current economic factors. Wells, who lives in St. John’s, Nfld., does the majority of the grocery shopping for her two-person household. She buys perishables about once a week to every two weeks, then does a what she calls her “large freezer order” grocery trip once a month, buying meat and non-perishable food items.

Nutrition is another important factor in her choices. “I like to be a label reader,” she says. “I try to stay away from highly processed food and will choose the natural fats option over the low fat/salt options that are generally full of chemicals.”

Olivia Bassett of Prince Albert, Sask., shares this focus on nutrition when choosing food to purchase. “My partner tries not to eat simple carbs to help control his blood sugar as he has diabetes. We eat a lot of meat, cheese, eggs, vegetables and apples,” she says. Beef is on their menu about two or three times per week.

“I read labels on products we buy to make sure we aren’t eating things that are overly processed. We aren’t very adventurous with our day-to-day culinary choices and stick to pretty basic meals.”

Like Wells and Bassett, nutrition is a priority for Kim Cheel when grocery shopping, as well as sticking to her budget. Cheel, who calls Airdrie, Alta. home, aims to eat beef at least once a week and cooks steak most frequently. “I usually search out discount steak. I try to budget my meals to be about $7-$8 per meal, and if I got full-priced cuts of steak, then I’d have a hard time keeping within that budget,” she says.

Cheel tends to purchase beef at Safeway, and she feels very confident in beef raised in Canada. “I feel like Canadian beef is all I know!” she says. “I certainly trust it to be safe to eat.”

Where they purchase beef also highlights the level of engagement of these particular millennials. Daniel Bersani of Guelph, Ont., buys beef about once a week, and his preferred cuts are tenderloin, striploin and flank. “I try to buy it from a local butcher because the quality is a little better, but if not there then I get it from the butcher counter at the grocery store,” he says.

“I am generally a fan of Canadian beef. It seems to be reasonably priced and I’m able to get cuts and quality that I am happy with.”

Bassett and her partner purchase beef from Brenda’s Blue Ribbon Beef of Birch Hills, Sask., making this connection through the Prince Albert Farmers Market. In the past they’ve bought a quarter of beef, and they’ll purchase individual cuts on special occasions. They also buy pork directly from a local farmer.

Having a relationship with the producer has strengthened Bassett’s positive perception of Canadian beef. “I have faith in the local farmers in our area. The quality of the beef Brenda raises is exceptional. It’s tender, delicious, fairly priced and we have peace of mind knowing we’re supporting a local and ethical business. We will be lifelong customers,” she says.

“In addition to Brenda’s Blue Ribbon Beef, we’ve been very impressed with Kattle Squared Services. Their beef farming with a focus on regenerative agriculture is very innovative. I hope it catches on and changes the Canadian beef industry.”

Wells, who usually eats beef two to three times per week, purchases beef from a producer when possible. “When I am financially able to, I like to buy a half and split it between my parents’ house and myself,” she says, noting this will usually last both households for eight months to a year.

When that’s not a possibility, she prefers to buy beef at Costco for the value on larger packages of meat in comparison to other grocery stores. “The more I can support local the better. The best-tasting beef I’ve had is always when I purchased directly from a farmer.”

Positive stories shift attitudes

As stated earlier, the perspectives of these consumers are not reflective of the average millennial, but they do show what motivates millennials to support beef producers through their purchasing power.

In July 2020, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s Public and Stakeholder Engagement program conducted consumer research that took a closer look at millennials to better understand their perceptions of Canadian beef.

This survey revealed that millennials tend to view the industry overall in a less than positive light, especially in the case of millennial women. The same is true for their attitudes towards beef producers.

“Their concerns with the industry are not unique to their generation, they are just felt more strongly amongst this group, compared to Canadians overall,” the research summary states.

For example, while 68 per cent of Canadian consumers overall rate the Canadian beef industry as either excellent or good stewards of the land and water, only 46 per cent of millennials surveyed chose those options. Similarly, when asked if they believe the industry is making a sincere effort to limit the environmental impact of its work, 66 per cent of all consumers surveyed chose excellent or good, while 43 per cent of millennials agreed.

The research summary goes on to state that “seeing negative content doesn’t have a strong impact on perceptions, but the lack of positive content does. Among millennials who feel negative/neutral about the industry, 25 per cent have never seen positive content regarding farmers and the environment.”

This provides an opportunity to shift attitudes in a demographic the Public Stakeholder and Engagement program wants to win over. Conveying information through powerful emotional stories can help to change perspectives. Sharing positive content on specific environmental practices used by farmers and ranchers, the survey found, helps to give a better impression of the beef industry.

“While millennials are more skeptical about farmers doing their part to lessen their environmental impact, they are easily convinced once given more information. Impressions of the industry improved once learning about the specific work being done on land use and (greenhouse gas) emissions.”

Also promising is the fact that 70 per cent of millennials surveyed want to learn more about Canada’s beef industry, aligning with a recent increase in public interest in food production. This offers a valuable opportunity for the industry to connect with millennials.

This strong interest in learning more about beef production was reflected in our own consumer interviews. Most bought beef directly from producers at least some of the time, indicating that they see value in learning about beef production directly from producers.

“I wish there was more of a social network to connect farmers with your general consumer who doesn’t know about buying beef by the quarter or half,” says Wells.

“I didn’t learn about it until a few years ago when I met my friends, who are wonderful beef farmers. Being a horse girl myself, I had a whole new appreciation of what work and education goes into raising cattle and the science behind the breeding and nutrition.”

About the author

Field editor

Piper Whelan

Piper Whelan is a field editor with Canadian Cattlemen. She grew up on a purebred, Maine-Anjou ranch near Irricana, Alta., and previously wrote for Top Stock, Western Horse Review, and various beef breed publications.

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