Retailers walk a delicate balance between keeping up with consumer demands and offering innovative items and surprises.

Short attention spans and a growing number of choices translate into what can sometimes feel like the need to possess mindreading skills to determine what consumers really want. This is particularly true when it comes to juggling claims of no antibiotics, no added hormones and grass-fed.

For years, consumers have said that such claims make protein products more appealing and more likely to encourage purchase. Yet, a recent report from Midan Marketing, which has offices in Chicago and Mooresville, North Carolina, shows consumer behavior does not always match purchase intent. Armed with a desire to better understand meat eaters and the emerging trends around protein consumption, Midan Marketing released its Meat Consumer Segmentation 2.0 report.

The 2.0 version comes just two years after the company’s original Meat Consumer Segmentation findings, which identified six segments. The new report considers the changing environment of mainstream protein claims, including more consumers observing flexitarian diets and a growing awareness of cell- and plant-based meats among multiple consumer groups. Today, plant-based meat eaters, grass-fed meat eaters and flexitarians/semi-vegetarians are creating the biggest impact on the meat industry, according to the Meat Consumer Segmentation 2.0 Report.

“Plant-based protein alternatives continue to grow in popularity,” says Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator, IDDBA, Madison, Wisconsin. “While some operators might cringe at the mention of plant-based, the statistics show people are not abandoning traditional proteins, they’re including them along with plant-based additions in their basket.”

Looking to meet the growing needs of flexitarian consumers who represent one-fifth of meat eaters, Smithfield Foods, Smithfield, Virginia, launched a plant-based protein portfolio under the company’s Pure Farmland brand. The soy-based line includes plant-based burger patties and meatballs (with and without dairy-free cheese alternative), patties and pre-seasoned protein starters. The products will be available in the fresh, refrigerated sections of grocery retailers starting in mid-September.


The Five Consumer Segments

To capture the newest findings, Midan Marketing built five consumer segments around attitudes and mindsets of the consumers profiled. These segments possess similar preferences and drivers.

Three of the five segments – Protein Progressives, Family-First Food Lovers and Wellness Divas – say they look for products with specific health claims but do not always purchase products with those claims. Understanding the disconnect between intent and purchase can make it easier for retailers to create segment-specific messaging to drive sales of protein and protein-alternatives for meals, snacks and entertaining.

“Not surprisingly, our Meat Consumer Segmentation 2.0 study shows that a whopping 39% of meat-eating consumers are swayed by price, whether it’s comparing prices of various products in the meat case, special promotions in the store or store website/app deals on particular meat products,” says Rick Lowe, senior market research manager at Midan Marketing. “However, it’s important to note that our research also shows 21% of meat-eating consumers are swayed by seeing a specific meat product featured in the weekly store flyer and 18% of meat-eating consumers are influenced by in-store product displays.”

·          Convenience Chasers (30%) – The largest consumer segment in Midan Marketing’s Meat Consumer Segmentation 2.0 Report is Convenience Chasers. This group seeks out coupons and promotional items when buying protein. Products purchased by this group are generally easy to consume on-the-go or quick to cook. Health claims hold little appeal for this group.

·          Family-First Food Lovers (21%) – Food enjoyed in the company of good friends and family is a core element for Family-First Food Lovers. Simplicity rings true with these individuals who largely prefer grass-fed meat to grain-fed alternatives. Midan Marketing’s research found those who choose grass-fed often consume meat and poultry at most meals. The grass-fed claim translates into quality, taste, animal welfare and personal health. Look for ways to include the nourishing nutritional benefits of protein in the nurturing experience of eating together with friends and family.

·          Aging Traditionalists (21%) – Tied with Family-First Food Lovers, Aging Traditionalists are your hard-core meat eaters. Unimpressed with claims of grass-fed, no antibiotics ever and no hormones, Aging Traditionalists eat meat because it tastes good. Further impress this group with reminders that their protein of choice is also a smart nutritional pick, but don’t expect this group to sample or purchase any kind of protein alternative.

·          Protein Progressives (16%) –This segment remains open to eating a variety of protein options. When Protein Progressives do purchase traditional proteins, they look for products with All-Natural Meat claims. Because of the many plant-based protein definitions, Protein Progressives can benefit from education and additional marketing around new plant- and cell-based protein alternatives. Because Progressives enjoy all forms of meat, this is a target segment for introducing and trying new proteins.

·          Wellness Divas (12%) –While protein is not a primary dietary focus of the Wellness Diva diet, this segment will supplement meals with chicken and plant-based proteins. Divas are a prime target for protein products possessing excellent health and wellness profiles. As a rule, Midan Marketing found plant-based meat alternative eaters disproportionally opt to eat vegetable plant-based proteins and seafood.


Millennials/Gen Z and baby boomers: similarities and differences

While baby boomers still hold court, the growing number of ethnically diverse millennial and Gen Z consumers are creating shifts in the protein market. Nutritional claims paired with greater awareness of sustainability and environmental issues mean aspirational purchasing is rapidly changing as younger demographics apply their own meaningful attributes to products.

While Midan Marketing found millennials and Gen Z consume meat and poultry like the general population of meat eaters, younger demographics are open to substituting vegetable- and plant-based protein options. This flexibility will create more growth and prevalence among alternative proteins, according to Rick Lowe, senior market research manager at Midan Marketing.

Proteins in all forms continue to find favor as home cooking and entertaining remain a priority for baby boomers and millennials, according to the white paper Retail Reborn: How the aspirational purchase has shifted from The NPD Group and Checkout Tracking. Entertaining friends and family with home-cooked meals fulfills different needs for each demographic. For boomers, in-home meals create occasions to maintain connections while millennials use entertaining to create experiences and opportunities to share finished products on social media.

Freshness and convenience also rank high for both groups. NPD Group’s At-Home Food Prep – Convenience is King report found more millennials and Gen Z placing emphasis on the consumption of fresh foods, increasing 5% over the past five years. Yet, the improving statistic still does not equal consumption among older consumers who place a priority on fresh foods. Fresh options must be also be convenient with 6 out of 10 adults spending less than 30 minutes preparing dinner, making easy-to-prepare, main-plate protein options more attractive than ever.