Economist: Keeping beef at center of plate of future

Purdue University’s Jayson Lusk spoke at Cattlemen’s College about future trends.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

August 25, 2021

3 Min Read
Steak on a plate
CENTER OF THE PLATE: Jayson Lusk, a food and agriculture economist at Purdue University, spoke about future trends cattle producers should watch at the 2021 Cattlemen’s College on Aug. 10 in Nashville, Tenn.Maren Caruso/Getty Images

Sure, beef demand is at a 33-year high, according to CattleFax. But that doesn’t mean cattle producers can afford to be complacent in addressing consumer concerns and ignore the rising challenges from the alternative protein sector.

Purdue University food and agriculture economist Jayson Lusk reminds producers that they have a lot of work to keep that demand high for the future. He spoke at the Cattlemen’s College before the Cattle Industry Convention on Aug. 10 in Nashville, Tenn.

Alternative competition

Lusk says that consumers still have questions about sustainability of beef production, a growing interest in alternative proteins, and they’re bombarded by influencers who push vegetarian and vegan lifestyles for one reason or another. Continuing to address these concerns is how beef producers protect the demand growth they saw coming out of the pandemic, and protect against alternative proteins from gaining a toehold.

Lusk says about $21 billion was invested into various alternative protein companies just last year, betting that these companies will pay off in the future.

Investor demands

Environmental sustainability governance — it’s a set of criteria that cattle producers should become familiar with, Lusk says. The conversation around sustainability is not only driven by consumer decisions at the meat counter, but it’s also being led by investment groups.

“A lot of the pressure here is coming from investment groups, asking food manufacturing, food retailing and production companies to adopt what they call ESG — environmental, sustainable and governance criteria — and start adopting metrics around these things,” Lusk says. “And the reason this is important is because of the capital flows coming into agriculture.”

These institutional investors control piles of capital, and they are expecting a report to their investors on the sustainability measures they’re investing that capital in, he adds. Meat packers, retailers, restaurants and others are already trying to figure this out. That’s opportunity for cattle producers, Lusk says.

“It means being progressive and willing to track and share data — maybe in ways we haven’t in the past,” Lusk says.

Points of purchase

The pandemic opened consumers up to new ways to get their food, and Lusk says cattle producers should watch those trends.

“We were on a trend before the pandemic to buy more food outside of grocery stores, e-shopping for food — but the pandemic really put us on a whole new level,” he says. “I was talking to one of the major fast-food chains the other day. They went from about 3% of their sale coming from online orders before the pandemic to today about 11% to 13% on average, which I found quite remarkable.”

Food will bypass the traditional grocery store, and in some small, urban areas, grocery orders are actually being filled out of micro-fulfillment centers, he explains. Not only will that change the future grocery store’s layout, but it also puts a bit of pressure on automation in meatpacking to fill the future needs of those micro-fulfillment centers.

The pandemic also created more consumer interest in direct delivery of food, which may not become a major share of the industry, but it may become a niche market that has room for growth, Lusk adds.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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