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Consumer preferences shift from health to animal welfare and social justice

Kaitlyn Riley

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A look into consumer trends shows a transition in food choices pointing preferences on animal welfare and social justice.

In addition to working as the regional pool manager with Organic Valley, Melissa Weyland dairy farms with her parents and siblings near Neenah, Wis. Invested in multiple areas of the dairy industry, Weyland analyzes trends that can help target the correct consumer.

“Educating should be more of a top priority,” Weyland said. “In the dairy industry, we don’t do a good job of educating.”

She pointed to the trend of people turning to plant-based beverages and the belief that they are better alternatives to milk.

“The list is tremendous of the values and the things that make real dairy better,” Weyland said. “I feel like there is so much opportunity on the table to continue to link up to consumers if we continue to open our minds, and we really open our hearts and try to hear and understand where they are coming from.”

Most consumers are not taking the time to research their choices in the grocery store, according to Weyland. Although many millennials are turning away from boxed convenience meals, health does not rank in the Top 3 for consumer priorities. Instead, Weyland said many people are making food choices based on the animal welfare of the supply chain.

“You have individuals who treat furbabies like children because they are waiting to have children later, so I think that is how they know to relate to food,” Weyland said. “I think that is bringing them towards choices that are more towards their favor in terms of animal welfare.”

As consumers seek more options in the grocery stores, a large hurdle for food producers is that they have little control or input for their products.

“We have these buyers coming to us, and they are pushing what we need to be doing and what they would like to see,” Weyland said. “We have sort of taken the farmers away from the labeling and the differentiation. We’ve really left it to a food industry and food companies, so there is a disconnect.”

Weyland predicted the next big trend will focus on social justice.

“You have a generation that is up and coming, and they are concerned about other people,” Weyland said. “They want to know whether those producers or farm workers and individuals involved in getting that food to that table were paid fairly and were treated fairly.”

Weyland added the next generation of consumers will be willing to pay a higher price to purchase a product meeting their value systems.