We hear it all the time…consumers say they would buy higher welfare products. However we also know that when it comes to the point of purchase, sales data shows us differently.
Therefore we decided to commission some research into what consumer attitudes to animal welfare actually are and to get beneath the surface of this a little more. To conduct this project we enlisted the help of top research agency OKO.
Their mission was to investigate attitudes and behaviour around animal welfare (AW) among Continental Meat (CM) buyers. We also wanted them to look at the barriers, opportunities and activation points for manufacturers and retailers looking to provide higher welfare continental meats in UK retailers.
They did this via a range of methods: desk research; time spent with 22 families who buy into CM (video feedback and interviews); in-store observations and questions and also an online survey. In total they captured feedback from 1,960 consumers.
Do consumers care about animal welfare?
This was one of the big questions, which we asked when consumers were at shelf-edge, making quick buying choices. Level of welfare was the most important factor for just 22% of consumers (behind quality, price, taste, deals and others) which in itself seems low. However digging a little deeper and specifically asking consumers about animal welfare, 52% of them said they have concerns about how the meat they bought has been produced.
Essentially it is a concern which sits below the surface as they felt they should care, but not quite sure who was responsible? Some people felt that producers were responsible for welfare (72%), others felt it was the government (56%), retailers (46%). Interestingly 21% felt that the general public were responsible for animal welfare. So perhaps there is an element of shifting responsibility and if you don’t think you’re responsible then you can’t carry that guilt of not making a particular choice?
There is something we’ve come across coined the ‘meat paradox’ called which was described in American Scientist Mind, in 2016. Psychologists have found that people who eat animals but also like them experience cognitive dissonance: a state of tension caused by acting on mutually inconsistent belief. The article points out that tactics such as avoidance or perceived behavioural change enable many people to get past their psychological distress. Understanding of animal welfare ease the dissonance generated by these feelings.
“Really I should be a vegetarian, but that’s probably too big a leap.”
However we did find that consumers see welfare as a component of continental meat quality and taste. For example 59% of those asked thought that meat that comes from animals that have been well treated tastes better. So this inference shows how quality/taste and welfare are linked.
But do consumers understand animal welfare?
Our research also demonstrated that we face a challenge in perception of welfare. Many people believe that the ideal scenario for a pig would be that it lives a life outside running around and snuffling round in trees and woods. This is perhaps based on what they understand as being good welfare for UK pigs – with free range pigs being born indoors but finished outside. However in parts of Spain and Italy, these kind of environments (extreme temperatures) wouldn’t actually be very kind. So there is some education to be done for consumers to understand what a good welfare system should look like, without them comparing the UK and Europe which is like comparing an apple to a pear!
Challenges exist where a base level of understanding or knowledge doesn’t exist i.e. common farming practises used both in the UK and across Europe (such as farrowing crates for sows) or that pigs can have their tails docked and teeth clipped (to prevent biting when they get bored, if housed in crowded conditions). Our higher welfare systems commit to leaving tails on and not clipping teeth, but for us to promote this as a positive factor, we have to explain that commonly these practices are carried out. So we have to draw attention to something which many people know nothing about, in order to promote and outline the positives to our systems.
What about labelling?
So let’s label packs better and then consumers will be able to make informed choices, right? Well not exactly. We found that consumers are confused about the kind of brand marks which are included on pack and what they mean.
Some marks which could be perceived as commonly understood were not, whereas a brand mark we created as a ‘placebo’ was indicated as being recognised. They tend to infer meaning and their assumptions can be influential – especially when it comes to animal welfare
What we found was that despite the concerns consumers have, they tend not to be activated as they feel that higher welfare options aren’t available in many retailers. So, if the product doesn’t exist then they can’t buy it, which therefore alleviates the sense of guilt they may feel (the meat paradox mentioned earlier).
“I care about a lot of things, but there’s a limit to what you can do, life gets impossible otherwise.”
Eggs is a category which has overcome these challenges. Consumers clearly understand the difference between caged and free range, they understand the labelling and appear to have bought into a higher price point.
“I couldn’t buy caged eggs, that’s just cruel. Most of them are free range now aren’t they and it’s only 20 or 30p more.”
So what does our research actually tell us?
Mainly that there are three barriers:
- Higher welfare products are too expensive
- 70% of consumers questioned put price as a conscious influence when buying continental meat
- It isn’t easy to work out from the labels which products are higher welfare and which aren’t
- Clearer labelling is essential
- There aren’t enough higher welfare products available
- Offer consumers more choice (like the free range eggs example)
So this research gives us some insight that were we (as an industry) able to work on these factors, we may be able to more actively encourage consumers to choose higher welfare.
In many ways there needs to be demand for choice, but also if we set a precedent to offer choice, consumers may buy more. With demand increasing supermarkets may feel more confident to increase their range. In turn, confidence for farmers to invest in higher welfare systems, which arguably cost more to set up, will also rise. For us working on long-term agreements with our supply partners this is the best scenario as the have confidence the meat they produce will be bought, at a fair price.
Whilst this remains a complex issue, both on terms of education and provision, it is one to which we remain committed. For us, it’s about progress not perfection.
To view the research in more detail, download the deck here.