WEBINAR REPLAY – 5 Protein Industry Trends that Agribusiness Leaders and Communicators Should Start Paying Attention to Now

By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith


Critical Takeaways:

  • Industry leaders are inundated with a flood of news and social media chatter, so it’s not always easy to determine which issues and trends matter most to consumers.
  • We’ve been monitoring five brewing trends that industry leaders and communicators need to start paying attention to now.
  • Food industry communicators no longer have the luxury of being out of sync with their operations teams, and must conduct crisis planning in advance.

Amidst the daily flood of news and social media chatter, it can be tough for industry leaders to identify real issues and trends that their businesses need to pay attention to.


  • What is just the topic of the day, versus one that will worry consumers for weeks to come?
  • What topics have the potential to truly impact the industry and purchasing decisions?


Determining these issues can be especially difficult when a hot topic gets millions of shares or likes, which can make it easy to assume that it’s a new trend or issue worth watching.


Like, for example, the recent animal rights group videos that show food producer mistreatment of animals that gain hundreds of thousands of views but have (and will continue to have) little to no impact on people’s consumption of meat.


As agribusiness reputation management professionals who help organizations sift through the noise of social media chatter, news and third party campaigns, we have been monitoring a number of issues, five of which we believe are picking up real steam.


Here are the five unobvious trends that we recommend agribusiness industry leaders and communicators start paying attention to now:


1) Worker’s rights and animal rights

2) Workforce development shortage

3) Water sustainability

4) Metrics and sustainability

5) Increased government action on microbials and food safety



1) Worker’s rights and animal rightsthe-big-chicken-industry-really-treats-its-workers-like-shit-1445976822


Social justice and animal rights groups such as Oxfam America, Food Whistleblower, Food is Power and no less than the Harvard Law Student Animal Legal Defense Fund have expanded their focus beyond animal welfare to include the rights and safety of workers. The organizations involved say that worker injury rates are too high and include injuries ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome to bone crushing from big beef carcasses. In addition, working conditions, such as bathroom breaks, are being scrutinized with some workers at major meat processing facilities now having to wear diapers to avoid taking bathroom breaks, according to a 2016 report released by Oxfam.


The new focus on unhealthy and potentially unsanitary working conditions gives new and negative attention to the conditions inside food processing facilities that American food is being processed while consumers are being encouraged to call on major poultry producers to improve working conditions and ensure fair wages for their employees.


The move may be an effort to achieve their goals in animal welfare (for consumers not to eat meat) by shifting focus to the welfare of humans working in the industry.


But regardless, the linkage between worker’s rights and animal rights is new and one that we see growing.


2) Workforce development shortage



According to the United Nations, the world’s population is expected to grow to more than 9 billion people within the next 34 years with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) projecting that the world’s food and feed production will need to increase 70 percent by 2050 to meet increased global demand.


However, the animal proteins industry is not attracting enough new talent both for entry-level and middle-management positions. Just last year in the U.S. alone, there were 58,000 jobs available for college graduates with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, but only 35,000 students graduating with the degree, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Educators that we’ve spoken with at major universities across the country say fewer and fewer students are choosing meat science majors with one major university recently removing its Agriculture major because of the lack of student interest. Alternatively, many agricultural science majors are not choosing the animal protein industry when they look for jobs.


According to AgWeek, the troubling trend stems from a multitude of factors, including:

  • Lack of interest from a younger generation for a rural, agriculture-based lifestyle.
  • Limited profitability for farmers (especially in recent years, given continuous declining markets).
  • Inability to get started because of financial hurdles (expensive equipment, difficulty getting a loan).


Unfortunately, the result will be a massive agribusiness workforce shortage in the not-so-distant future.
3) Water sustainability



Animal rights groups have also focused their attention on water use in the animal protein industry. For example, Foster Farms, which produces organic chicken in Fremont, California, has been found to use two-thirds of the municipality’s water, leaving less than the recommended number of gallons for each member of the city’s populace.


With droughts happening in many places across the country, water usage and its effect on local communities will increasingly be a concern to consumers.


We also expect local governments to focus more on water usage in farming going forward.
4) Metrics and sustainability



Digital data


In the past, customers would say that they wanted sustainable, organic food, but they didn’t want to pay more for it. That has now changed, according to Nielsen’s 2015 Global Health & Wellness survey that polled over 30,000 individuals, 88% of whom (all age demographics) said they were willing to pay more for healthier foods.


Likewise, the Center for Food Integrity conducted a survey in 2015 that showed consumers want greater transparency from food companies and restaurants regarding their business practices and product information. Consumer groups are also examining how companies produce food and are starting to hold them accountable by asking for data and looking carefully at it. Public watchdog groups who aren’t just accepting that companies are doing what they say they are doing have applied more rigorous metrics to company practices. A number of companies are even working towards achieving greater transparency with the help of third-party audits, as they look down their supply chain to make sure practices are aligned with company ideology.


We anticipate that more and more food companies will start highlighting their transparency practices on packaging and in marketing campaigns going forward.
5) Increased government action on microbials and food safety



The government is traditionally a trailing indicator. The public’s pressure comes first, and then the government begins to act.


For microbial and food safety issues, government oversight is no longer trailing.  In the past two years as food recalls have exploded and market scrutiny of the supply chain has concomitantly expanded, government monitoring and enforcement of existing rules has increased at a rapid pace. From increased standards on salmonella in chicken and the Beef Rule to Trichinae guidelines and the FDA’s testing for lead, the government has taken more proactive action regarding food safety in the past two years than it has in the previous 20 years.


The laws are not yet changing, but the USDA, FDA and various state departments of health are acting quickly to insure performance standards are being met. We expect this trend to continue as food safety concerns are top of mind for many consumers.


With increased consumer and watchdog group demands for higher levels of transparency, quality and accountability, expectations on companies are increasing as are the potential threats to their brands’ reputations.


In order to keep ahead of these and future trends while protecting and positioning a company’s brand, communications leaders need to understand what the operations business units are doing and how they can work together. They need to understand the supply chains–if there are potential issues there—and ask questions such as, “What are the waste practices or other sustainability practices in operations?”


Being fully aligned with operations and asking the questions that a shifting landscape demands will enable communicators to effectively position and prepare their organizations for critical moments as well as take advantage of new opportunities.

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