A portion of beefSD Class 3 participants and peer mentors recently returned from a week-long trip to the East coast. The purpose of the trip was to give the participants a better perspective of who our consumers are and how they make their food buying decisions. One of the tour stops was at Sysco Philadelphia. Sysco Philadelphia is a large distributor of food products to foodservice businesses within a 65 mile radius of Philadelphia. They distribute nearly 1.6 million boxes or $111 million of beef per year, with a large portion of this being Certified Angus beef. Sysco not only does food distribution but they focus on customer service and making sure their customers are successful by working through menu planning, developing recipes and helping to highlight certain items that have higher returns.
Consumer Panel Discussions
Sysco Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Beef Council worked together to set up a consumer panel of millennials to help us know what information millennials are looking for, where they find their information, and what decisions they are making regarding their food choices. The panel was four young ladies; two from an area agricultural college and two who work for Sysco. The college students were on the younger end of the millennials, while the employees at Sysco were on the older end, which gave a great perspective of differences even within a generation.
South Dakota Perspectives
The group of South Dakota ranchers were very engaged in the conversation and listened to what this panel had to share. A few things were surprising to the beefSD group. Ronda and John Wollman from Harold shared about their experience and I think it sums up what we need to be doing as producers to build that connection, relationship and ultimately trust with the consumers. “What surprised us most was realizing that people rely so heavily on social media to get their information on what they eat and where they eat. We as producers need to be watching what is being put out on social media so we can support what is accurate and correct what is wrong.” It was very evident that producers need to be more active on social media to share their story so that the consumer can have a better understanding of where their food comes from and how it is raised. It is important for them to be able to find reliable research to support their decisions, but at the end of the day, they want to feel good about the decisions they have made for themselves and their families.
Sarah Myers from Winner stated, “What surprised me most about the consumer panel was that they talked about not eating beef very often, citing that they didn’t know how to prepare it or didn’t want to spend more on beef versus another protein source.” As we consider eating habits in the Midwest, and especially rural areas, we need to remember that beef isn’t always the center of the plate across the country. There are many other options available, and there are multiple factors that drive those decisions.
Theresa Bruch from Newell shared that, “I was really shocked how much the millennials buy food off of trigger words such as antibiotic free, hormone free and happy cows. It was also shocking to me that their place of research fell on Pinterest if they wanted to gain more knowledge on what to eat.” As we consider our consumer and learn what information they are looking for and where they are looking, it helps us to be able to meet them and share information.
From the perspective of the panelists, they shared some points to encourage us to get involved in social media and don’t be afraid to share heartfelt videos of what we do. Even though there are many physical miles between ourselves and consumers on the east coast, social media is an excellent way to bridge the gap and build understanding. Help people to understand that we care for our livestock. It comes back to connecting with people on a personal level and leading with the positive things that are going on in our business. Jade Hoch, Sysco Business Relations Consultant and panelist had a very positive experience with the beefSD group and the Pennsylvania Beef Council. She shared that she has been in the restaurant industry for 16 years and still she doesn’t often feel like she is being heard, and finds it challenging to get her point across. Her experience with South Dakota ranchers was different, “Yesterday was such a unique experience for me. People were interested in what I had to say! It was such a nice change of pace and just an overall enjoyable experience. It was one my most favorite days in my career at Sysco to date.” The opportunity at Sysco Philadelphia gave South Dakota producers a better understanding of perceptions, but it also helped a few consumers to see that we are doing good things, even when it is a foreign concept.
Calving season is coming up, what better time to start sharing your story than with some of those cute babies and all you do to keep them healthy and safe.
If you have questions about the consumer panel or beefSD, contact Adele Harty.