Consumers can feel caught in the crossfire as they try to understand and juggle the often conflicting messages they’re bombarded with daily in the popular media from anti-beef activists and Hollywood celebrities. In spite of this, consumers are generally satisfied with the beef choices that are available to them and trust cattlemen.

That’s one takeaway from recent research looking into consumer attitudes about food safety, how consumers view beef production, and how beef fits into their daily lives. Sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough, now Merck Animal Health, the research is a quantitative follow-up to last year’s qualitative efforts by “Just Ask A Woman.” For more on those findings, click here.

This year’s research, conducted by The Hartman Group, put numbers to the perceptions and opinions about the beef industry that last year’s research revealed. To read a synopsis of this year’s research, click here. This year’s research found that 75% of the 2,800 consumers surveyed are satisfied with the choices they have in buying beef. Nearly that many (72%) buy mostly conventional or traditionally produced beef or don’t pay close attention to the type of beef they buy. Twenty-eight percent, however, buy “natural” at least half the time and, of that group, 5% are “natural seekers” who place high importance in the attributes of natural beef and buy it all the time.

The two most prevalent sources of information about beef are traditional news media, where 38% receive their information, and word of mouth from family and friends (30%). In the context of food safety, government agencies such as USDA and FDA and package labels are seen as influential (43% and 40%, respectively). Food manufacturers and beef producers rank lower, at 17% and 16%, respectively.

But that doesn’t mean consumers don’t trust cattlemen and want to hear from them. Respondents indicated an interest in learning more about cattle feed (47%); medical treatments for cattle (46%); feed supplements (45%); beef production (44%); and sustainability (43%), among others.

Consumers want to know that farmers and ranchers share the same values as they do and care about the animals they raise and the end product they produce. Consumers also want to know the government is overseeing the safety and quality of today’s beef and how it’s being produced, including what’s being given to the animal, according to research results.

Taking the results of both the qualitative and quantitative research into consumers’ attitudes about beef reveals these three key outcomes:

  • Most consumers are comfortable with the concept and safety of traditional beef. A “traditional beef” message evokes positive responses from consumers and is a more favorable alternative to “conventional” beef. It also provides a positive point of entry to discuss beef and beef production with consumers.
  • The role of America’s most important shopper, mom, should not be underestimated. She is the family’s most trusted gatekeeper and wants to maintain control of the choices she makes for her family.
  • Messages about beef and how beef is produced must first align with the shared beliefs and values of consumers. Further, consumers want to hear from those they believe to be credible – cattle-farming families and others involved in supplying beef, as well as people who are highly educated and have a scientific background.