Industry development manager with the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), Colin Smith has recently returned from Canada, where he attended a marketing and communications workshop hosted by the International Meat Secretariat (IMS).

The overarching theme of the event was ‘Meat’s place on the Plate’.

IMS is a non-profit organisation that represents the global meat and livestock sector as a vital motor of growth for the sustainable supply of safe, healthy, high-quality and nutritious animal protein. It also acts to ensure the meat sector’s contribution as an essential part of a healthy, sustainable diet.

Reflecting on the range of issues discussed at the workshop, Smith said: “The challenges faced by the UK’s red meat industry are largely the same as those experienced by meat industries across the world.

“Likewise, the marketing-related issues that confront the LMC are similar to those faced by levy bodies in all other countries.

Marketing budgets are under constant pressure and demonstrating the value of marketing to stakeholders can be difficult.

He continued: “Creative material must resonate with the consumer, not with the stakeholders and this is not always easily explained.”

The LMC executive pointed out that declining meat consumption in developed countries and the emergence of alternative proteins is a reality, and not one that the meat industry can escape.

“Fortunately, the industry is coming from a position of dominance in the protein market. However, if the meat industry does not act now, the alternative protein industry will continue to take market share. The flexitarians and the permission seekers are the groups that need to be influenced.

If this group decides to eat less meat, this will have a negative influence in the developed markets such as the EU.  The alternative meat industry is extremely well funded by influential individuals.  The meat industry must monitor this competition closely.

The LMC representative went on to point out that, while it is recognised that the meat industry is under threat from the rise of alternative proteins now competing for a share of the wider protein market, it is also recognised that the animal protein market is still dominant.

“The biggest concern for the meat industry is not the rise in the number of vegans or vegetarians but the rise in the number of consumers who may decide to eat less meat than they do currently.”

Where meat substitutes are concerned, Smith said that the international meat industry must know about the companies producing plant-based or lab-cultured protein.

“The fundamental questions are: how are they funded, who is supporting them and what messages are they using to influence consumers?

“The meat industry must be a player within the category, identify the knowledge gaps and work collaboratively to improve the situation.”

He continued: “The meat industry must act now. It is important to avoid being sucked into being defensive but rather be pro-active in trying to change the increasingly negative narrative around red meat.  We must be a player in the market and let the challenge from the alternative protein industry be a catalyst for innovation and pro-activity.

“As an industry, we must work to understand our consumers’ needs and give them the permission they require to continue to eat red meat.  We must innovate to remove the barriers to purchase by providing meal solutions that consumers demand.

Red meat consumption in Europe is projected to decline in the next 10 years.  The rate of that decline will depend on what we do next.

Smith concluded: “These projected trends provide a fundamental challenge for levy bodies like the LMC. So, do we attempt to stem the decline, look for opportunities elsewhere, or address both issues with equal vigour?”