Through this project, we worked toward revamping the Painted Hills Natural Beef strategic marketing plan. We did this by gathering information concerning public perception and attitudes toward our company claims. We thought a direct-to-consumer survey wouldn’t be cost efficient and decided to contact our participating meat department managers to gain their impression of how the public views our product. These managers are the vital link between our company and the end user. To effectively use our time and grant money, we placed the survey on our company website and invited these managers to complete it.
Thirty-one 31 managers responded and participated, about 21% of those invited. These participants gave good insight into the perceptions of consumers and of the meat department staff charged with selling our products. We found there is a moderate to high level of confusion concerning the basic claims of our company such as selling cattle raised with no added hormones, no added antibiotics and fed on a 100% vegetarian diet.
The first step in the project was revamping our company’s website. We determined early on that the original site was not technologically adequate to meet the needs of the focus group. It needed to be brought up to date with our current branding, updated logo and color schemes. We felt that the congruence of all our media would aid the legitimacy of our company, our site and the focus group.
From the responses of our participants, we are building a strategic marketing plan that focuses our marketing funds in the most effective places. Materials useful in meeting our newfound needs include print media to clarify points of confusion, redevelopment of more comprehensive sales material, an easy reference guide for meat department managers and radio advertisements.
Painted Hills Natural Beef sought to obtain information from participating meat department managers concerning public perception and the level of public understanding associated with basic claims and attributes of our products.
We launched the website survey on January 15 and reached those without Internet access by offering our survey by fax, mail and phone. We analyzed the compiled information in May and formulated two reports, our members’ analysis and the OSU Extension Offices report.
Branded beef continues gaining popularity, though those who come to retail locations in search of branded beef are relatively low in number. Consumers are engrossed in the concept of natural beef and its implications but are often confused on what those claims specifically imply. However, the basic claims of natural beef (no added hormones or antibiotics and a vegetarian diet) do influence consumer sales. Additionally, consumers consider other factors such as price and taste profile. Research shows consumers understand the concept of no added hormones better than no added antibiotics. We also found that the claim of a 100% vegetarian diet most strongly influences consumers to choose natural beef over a generic option.
When compiling the responses, we realized we had poorly phrased some of the questions. This led to dissension among respondents and a weakening of some of the questions. We also feel that while the meat managers were good sources of information, any future studies pertaining to consumer interest should be consumer based. While more expensive to obtain, polling consumers themselves allows for more substantiated results with added credibility.
BENEFITS OR IMPACTS ON AGRICULTURE, OUTREACH AND PRODUCER ADOPTION
We released a one-page study summary titled “Beliefs about Branded Beef” to all the Oregon State University Extension and Research offices throughout Oregon. This summary addresses our survey results and clarifies certain misconceptions about branded beef and its intended benefits.
Our study reinforces that branded beef has had a tremendous effect on the average meat department. Perhaps one of the most important statistics gathered is that managers believe that no matter the title, consumers generally prefer meat without added antibiotics or hormones when given the option. Additionally, mangers believe the claim of 100% vegetarian diet is one of the main reasons consumers purchase Natural Beef products. With such a strong market presence and so much interest from the public, ranchers cannot ignore the potential.
We used seven ranching families from our Painted Hills membership to analyze our results. Their reactions were positive. They unanimously felt that the contents of the study would undoubtedly increase producer understanding of the natural beef industry. Additionally, the membership wanted more information, such as understanding levels concerning marbling and yield, included in the next study. Several members reached our same conclusion: more consumer input in studies like this.
We recommend more emphasis on the education of both the consumer and the meat department sales staff. Natural beef companies need to realize that while the desire for information is out there, a small percentage of the populous is so interested that they will actively seek the information they need.
The education of the meat-department sales staff is vital. Steps need to be taken to enrich the knowledge of these employees. These are the people asked for information by the consumer. If these individuals have no knowledge of the product and/or its attributes, the chain of education will break down, ultimately reducing sales and impairing the industry.