As consumers become increasingly curious about the source of their food, chefs are challenged to differentiate their menus with offerings that meet expectations for transparency, while still maximizing profits.
“People want to know where their food comes from,” says Christine Tanner, marketing brand manager for Creekstone Farms. “For a long time, consumers either had knowledge or first-hand experience with agriculture—which leant an understanding of production and raising animals— or they didn’t necessarily want to know. Both of those things have changed.”
Partnering with a branded beef or pork program, according to Tanner, is one way that successful chefs and restaurateurs can leverage their menu as a differentiating factor. Certified humane raised and handled labeling from the non-profit organization Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) reassures customers that their food was processed humanely from birth to slaughter.
Red meat consumption has fluctuated greatly during the past 20 years thanks to the rise of plant-forward eating and protein alternatives. However, 2018 saw a resurgence of beef and pork offerings on restaurant menus, as well as the highest rate of red meat consumption nationwide since 2004. Consumers are no longer limiting these foods in their diets based on misconceptions around nutrition, but instead are making choices related to the way in which food animals are raised.
“In the past, consumers were concerned about the viability of beef and pork as part of a healthy diet,” Tanner says. “Now we know that both proteins are great choices for the health-minded consumer, but they are still seeking knowledge about where their food comes from and that the animal is raised in an environment that respects that.”
According to a 2017 survey conducted by HFAC, 58 percent of American consumers report being more concerned with animal welfare than they were five years prior. Last year, research from the World Animal Protection organization showed that 80 percent of respondents were “concerned” about the treatment of factory-farmed animals and felt that suppliers have a responsibility to source beef and pork from higher welfare farms.
“Partnering with the right producer creates opportunities for chefs to connect with guests about commitments to sourcing and respect for the ingredients used,” Tanner says. “Because consumers are more and more focused on these subjects, providing these products on menus can lead to increased customer loyalty as well.”
In addition to engaging customers in important dialogue about their meals, restaurateurs can charge a premium for beef and pork products that are certified humane. According to research published in 2018 by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 57 percent of consumers reported that they will choose a restaurant because it serves animal welfare certified products, and a majority are willing to pay more than a $5 premium on those offerings.
“Staying on top of trends and knowing how to incorporate consumer preferences into a particular concept is critical for restaurant success,” Tanner says. “Meat quality is influenced heavily by many factors, including genetics, feeding, and handling practices. At Creekstone Farms, humane handling is a focus because it’s the right thing to do. But it also provides transparency to our partners and their customers, reassuring them of sourcing commitments.”