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Meat Still On Menu For Most Despite Challenges

More than nine out of ten New Zealanders are meat-eaters, a survey has found; though almost half of Kiwis have reduced their meat consumption in response to issues such as cost and health.

The results of the online survey carried out in December 2021 – along with an associated review led by crown research institute AgResearch - also shows high awareness of meat alternatives, but a “very low” level of consumption of those alternative products.

“Overall, the outlook for meat consumption and (the) meat industry in New Zealand is positive and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future,” says the recently published study from AgResearch scientists and Lincoln University researchers.

The online survey of 1061 New Zealand consumers found that for meat-eaters “the taste of meat is the king decider for purchase and consumption”; with 71 per cent rating taste a “very important” attribute when purchasing, followed by price (55 per cent) and use-by date (51 per cent).

Results showed that chicken was the main type of meat consumed regularly, accounting for about 33 per cent of the meals within an average week, followed by beef (22 per cent), fish (13 per cent), pork (10 per cent), lamb (8 per cent), and processed meat (7 per cent). Plant-based meat products, venison, game/hunted meat, and other meat types only make up a minor portion in participants' weekly diets (Iess than 2 per cent).

Over the past year, nearly half of survey respondents (47 per cent) lowered their meat consumption; most of them (69 per cent) had consumed less meat overall while the rest of meat reducers (31 per cent) only lowered the consumption of particular meat products.

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When it came to motivations for reducing meat consumption, “lack of affordability and health concerns are their key drivers”.

Survey participants were also asked to indicate the top 3 factors or words that they considered important to define sustainability for meat production. The most frequent terms include ‘animal welfare’, ‘environmental impact’ and ‘grass-fed’, closely followed by ‘carbon/GHG emissions’, ‘free range’ and ‘farming methods’.

Consumers acknowledged the importance of sustainability linked to care for animals and the environment and were willing to pay a premium (17–24 per cent) for a range of meat attributes associated with these social aspects.

Although the respondents' awareness of alternative proteins or meat alternatives was high, their consumption of these products was rated as very low compared to what is reported in other countries.

AgResearch senior scientist Cameron Craigie says the headline survey result on omnivorous diets is not necessarily surprising given the value and tradition of meat eating in New Zealand. Affordability issues were likely to have remained to the fore with the higher inflation since the survey was completed, with April 2023 meat, poultry and fish prices up 9.5 per cent on the NZ food price index compared to April 2022.

“The survey is a snapshot in time, but for us as researchers, it does help us focus on the research that addresses the issues that people care most about. Clearly taste is a key factor for meat eaters and that’s why we are doing research to help producers maximise that.”

The value or impacts of meat in a diet has recently been the subject of several reports internationally, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stating that “meat, eggs and milk offer crucial sources of much-needed nutrients which cannot easily be obtained from plant-based foods”.

Dr Craigie says a discussion based on the scientific evidence is important when it comes to health or sustainability.

“On the sustainability front, we know this is something consumers are concerned about, and we are working with farmers to help provide them tools and practices to reduce their environmental impact and meet targets around things like water quality and climate change.”

The full published research, including the survey findings and information, can be viewed at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0309174023001389

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