Though over 70% of beef consumers supported use of grazing practices to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG), less than 25% were willing to pay more for it. The same 25% tended to opt for niche, higher-end products from organic outlets.
“The findings are encouraging for producers and retailers pursuing niche markets for beef products,” the team – led by led by Dr Xiaogu Li of Pennsylvania State University – said, adding: “It is likely that beef products that provide desired product attributes might receive greater market acceptance and generate higher revenues from higher price margins.”
Prescribed grazing can reduce GHG emissions from cattle by controlling the harvest of vegetation, rotating cattle through different paddocks and maintaining minimum forage grazing heights. As a result, forage – crops grown for grazing – can grow for a longer period during the grazing seasons, which supplements carbon storage in soils therefore offsetting cattle-related GHG emissions, the team explained.
“The cattle industry contributes to US agricultural GHG emissions. Prescribed grazing can help reduce GHG emissions,” Dr Li and co noted.
The findings come from 806 US households who were presented with the option of a hypothetical third party certified Raised Carbon Friendly (RCF) labelling programme for beef reared using GHG lowering ‘prescribed grazing’ methods, and asked how much they would pay.
The researchers found green-minded shoppers who are interested in niche beef products from organic stores were willing to pay around $306 (€278) of their $593 (€538) annual beef budget on RCF labelled products. That is substantially more than the average shopper, willing to spend just $64 (€58) of their annually annual $639 (€580) annual beef spend on RCF products.
As in many similar studies, the shoppers most willing to pay more for premium, sustainable beef products came from higher income backgrounds and believed in the ‘‘consequential effect” of their choices.
Shoppers on lower incomes tended to be less supportive of the proposed RCF programme, generally spent less on beef and were more concerned with cheaper food than climate change.
Dr Li and his team said the study was performed “in light of the potential for changes in grazing management to reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon sequestration.”
Europe at the forefront
The findings are also likely to be applicable in Europe, experts say, where EU organic standards labels are already used.
Livestock regulations under the standard already stipulate overgrazing must be minimised for the meat to have an EU organic standard label, though the focus is more on reducing the number of animals rather than through rotation.
“The number of livestock must be limited with a view to minimising overgrazing, poaching of soil, erosion, or pollution caused by animals or by the spreading of their manure,” according to the regulation on livestock.
Nevertheless, green cattle raising is a clear concern to European consumers who could be receptive to further measures.
Mintel directed us to an article by global food and drink analyst Jenny Zegler, which suggested the majority of environmentally friendly product launches around the world were European.
“So far this year, of meat products launched globally carrying an environmentally friendly product claim, 63% have been launched in Europe, up from 56% launched in this region in 2015,” she said.
A Mintel analysis from May suggested meat sourcing is becoming increasingly important for Italian consumers, while Compassion in World Farming recently told FoodNavigator the meat industry faces loss of investor backing if it does not become more sustainable and move away from factory farming.
And the trend does not stop at environmental responsibility for Europeans.
In the UK, shoppers recently told GlobeScan they would pay more in the knowledge farmers are getting a better deal, while German consumers said they are willing to pay more for ethically produced meat.
Though figures published earlier this year suggest differently, with a 1% increase in organic sales to £1.7 bn (€1.88bn) in 2014 from 2013 – the first time organic sales had grown in four years – compared to a dip in Fairtrade product sales which slipped 4% to £1.65bn (€1.83bn).
Source: Food Policy
Published online first, doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2016.09.003
“Consumer willingness to pay for beef grown using climate friendly production practices”
Authors: Xiaogu Li, et al.