The Queensland beef industry and consumers who identify as ‘flexitarian’

Consumer demands - seizing the opportunities in the beef industry

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Consumer demands - seizing the opportunities in the beef industry

30 August 2020

Authors: Dr. Megan Star, Prof. John Rolfe Dr. Jeremy De Valck; Dr. Darshana Rajapaksa

Centre for Regional Economies and Supply Chains; School of Business and Law; Central Queensland University. 

Executive summary

The Australian beef industry has prospects to expand to meet growing demand from Asian export markets. The industry makes a significant contribution to state and national economies and underpin many regional and rural communities. As the same time there are pressures from consumers stemming from concerns about how beef is produced (i.e impacts on animal welfare and environment) or concerns about the impacts of the product (i.e. impacts on sustainability and health). These are termed ‘credence’ attributes because they cannot be objectively measured, but instead must be communicated alongside the product to ensure it is credible to consumers.


Images: Dr Megan Star  & Professor John Rolfe from CQUniversity led this study

In the research reported here we assess whether demands and concerns about various credence aspects of meat production are growing and likely to have a significant impact on the beef industry. For the purposes of this research we have focused on the credence attributes of: health and nutrition, ethical concerns about animal welfare, and sustainability concerns, including the environmental consequence of production on landscapes, biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions.

A national survey was developed to better understand consumers consumption over time, expectations for future consumption, and preferences in the credence areas of environment, health and animal welfare. We assessed the issues across demands for beef, chicken, port and lamb, because many of these issues are associated with meat consumption rather than being focused on the beef sector. We also sought to understand patterns of non-consumption, purchasing and knowledge of production systems, so we could test how these may relate to concerns about creedance factors.  

The survey was collected through a market research firm. A total of 1,199 participants completed the survey, with respondents from all Australian states and territories. The survey found that 73% of participants eat most meat and fish products, 15% eat a subset of meat and fish products, 3% are vegetarian, 8% are flexitarian and 1% are vegan. Consumption of beef is lower than chicken but greater than pork, lamb and fish. Age and income are significant determinants of the type and level of meat consumed. Looking forward to the next five years, those who are younger and of a higher level of education are more likely to reduce their consumption of beef.

There was a significant relationship between changes in consumption and drivers of change with 17.5% of respondents who had stopped consuming beef concerned about health, 15% concerned about animal welfare and 10% concerned about the environment. Health and meat quality factors were significant drivers of consumption increases by more than 25-50%. Food safety and family circumstances were not identified as important drivers of changes in consumption, while prices, budgets, animal welfare and the environment had low to moderate impact.

For environmental factors participants were most concerned about the impacts of production on water quality in streams and rivers, followed by the impacts of production on native vegetation and natural habitats. There were lower concerns about emissions of greenhouse gases. In relation to animal welfare consumers were most concerned about transport stages in the supply chain.

The results identify that meat remains at staple in most households, although consumption levels are likely to continue declining. Credence factors are important, but there is more attention on local factors than global issues, and there does not appear to any major trends to non-consumption, with small proportions of respondents identifying as vegetarian or vegan. Concerns over health are more prominent than animal welfare and environmental issues, and may underpin a larger proportion of consumers who identify as ‘flexitarian’.


Read the full report here: