Food In Canada

Building a national food strategy: Consumer Trends and the red meat, poultry, and fish and seafood divisions

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Gary Fread continues his look at consumer trends and their influence on a national food strategy

In the last several articles, I have been looking at the consumer food trends that are affecting the food industry and need to be considered as key drivers of the national food strategy. I started to break that down with comments on a sectoral basis starting with the grains “division” of Canada Food Inc. and then the oilseed and pulses “division.” In this article, I want to look at the meat sector, and I include in that term three divisions of Canada Food Inc. – red meats division, poultry division, and the fish and seafood division. I combine those because for the consumer meat is meat, whether it is beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish or shrimp. As well, the consumer trends are causing a great amount of market interaction among the divisions.


I must say that I don’t have any biases about the meat sectors. I grew up in a farming area where, as a kid, we lived on the old 1950s and 1960s diet of meat, potatoes and vegetables, and sometimes a salad, at virtually every dinner (or supper as we called it back them). Lunches were usually meat leftovers from the night before made into a sandwich, and breakfasts were eggs and bacon or sausages. Now I’ve expanded my cuisine over the decades and become a bit of a foodie, but in many ways, that’s still the basic menu. And any comments I’m making about various meats are based on the views of the consumer groups I spoke of a few articles back: the Foodies, Healthies, Greenies, Speedies and Cheapies, plus the Newbies (recent immigrants).


So, based on 2012 revenue numbers from Food In Canada’s 2013 Canada Food Industry Report, the red meats division, comprising beef, veal and pork, is the largest division. It is followed by the poultry division, which includes chicken and turkey, and the fish and seafood division, comprising fin fish and shellfish. The sources include saltwater, fresh water and aquaculture.


Overall, there is some gradual increase in market share of fish and seafood versus red meats and poultry. This is attributed to the overall trend toward healthier eating. We will look at that a bit more. The imports versus exports numbers vary greatly among the various meat products. Overall, it is a difficult matrix to analyze, at least for me. So let’s look at our consumer trends and see what impact each might be having.


Consumer impact


The group likely having the biggest impact on the meat sector generally is probably the Healthies. They tend to see red meat as not being the healthiest means of getting protein in their diets. So they tend to move from red meats to poultry, and particularly fish and seafood. In more extreme cases, they even move away from meat protein into plant-based protein such as legumes (beans, lentils, soy), nuts and seeds, soy or almond milk, or some of the ancient grains (quinoa, amaranth). This is leading to companies coming out with healthier meats, such as range-fed, hormone-free and antibiotic-free, or processed meats that contain additional fibre but that are gluten-free and allergen-free. This healthier trend will likely continue.


Another group that is having some, perhaps less, effect is the Greenies. They are concerned about the environmental impact of livestock agriculture versus crop agriculture. They have environmental concerns about fishing and aquaculture as well. They also have issues with humane treatment of animals. All of this has resulted in more Marine Stewardship Council certification requirements, and it looks like requirements for the ethical treatment of animals is beginning and will likely grow over time. This is going to require some adaptation on the part of growers, and that has begun in most animal agriculture sectors. If the production sector adapts, as it appears to be doing, they may need to do some effective marketing to convince consumers.


All of these changes on health, environment and animal treatment are likely to add cost to the end products, which the Healthies and Greenies will likely be prepared to pay. But what about the Cheapies who don’t have the money to spend on higher priced foods? This could become a bit of an issue for the meat industry.


While we have all this growing concern about health issues relating to foods, the Speedies are still looking for it to be available fast. So, especially with meats, the growth of the fast-food industry will continue. But many Speedies may also be Healthies, so if the meat industry can make their fast-food meats as healthy as possible, they should benefit. As long as it’s fast – either take-out or from the microwave – it’s acceptable to the Speedies. If it’s also healthy, that’s a real plus.


And then there are the Foodies. Well, they are likely going to continue to eat meats of all kinds, and will look for ways to make them as delicious and different as possible. They will be looking at ways to include ethnic cuisines into our traditional meat products and will continue to lead in what is now being called the “Global Cuisine.” And of course many of the Newbies may not have had enough access to meats in their place of origin, and if so, meat consumption will continue to rise in that group. So how does the meat industry appeal to the Foodies and Newbies? Perhaps they need more connection with the culinary community and chef schools and the like? I’m not sure, but there is likely an opportunity.


The bottom line for me is that the meat industry will face some challenges in the next few years, and in some cases already are. I do believe there are opportunities for the industry, but it will require some sharp strategies and excellent marketing. Perhaps selling the Canada brand to export markets? That’s another possibility – increase our exports – but that’s a whole other article.


Gary Fread is president of Fread & Associates Ltd., consultants to the food industry. He has spent 25 years in management positions in the food processing industry, with a background in sales, logistics, purchasing and technical areas. He has worked with Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup and Morrison Lamothe, and is the past president and CEO of the Guelph Food Technology Centre. He is active in many food industry associations and organizations, serving on the boards of several. Contact him at

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