AmericanFarm.com

Summit looks at animal ag among millennials

By WHITNEY PIPKIN
AFP Correspondent

CRYSTAL CITY, Va. (May 20, 2014) — Author Jeff Fromm started his presentation to a roomful of livestock farmers, ranchers and related organizations by telling them to “unlearn” what had made them successful for the last 20 years.
In order to reach and market products to this new millennial generation —consumers born between the early ’80s and mid-2010s — they’d need to learn new approaches.
Speaking at the annual Animal Agriculture Alliance Summit May 8-9 near Washington, D.C., the author of Marketing to Millennials summarized a morning panel discussion on how to work with staffers in this age group on the Hill: “D.C. is run by twenty-somethings. If you want to get customers, do a cool YouTube video.”
The audience laughed, but the joke wasn’t too far from the message of that day’s presentations.
Fromm said millennials represent a consumer group that’s 80 million people strong, difficult to court and willing to participate in free advertising when a product wins them over.
“You do not have a target audience with millennials; you have a marketing partner,” Fromm said, causing presenters throughout the afternoon to apologize when they used “target audience” and scrambled for a replacement phrase.
Attendees of the 13th annual conference later had the chance to hear from a panel of millennials as students from George Washington University shared how they make decisions in the lunch line.
A morning panel discussion also focused on how to relate to staffers on Capitol Hill who fall in this age group and ascribe just as heavily to the it’s-not-what-you-know-but-who mantra.
Morning sessions on May 9 also focused on millennials, including a discussion on marketing to multicultural consumers who fall in this age group.
Andy Vance, moderator for the summit and editor of Feedstuffs, enlightened the audience on what a rollercoaster it can be to continually appeal to what he deemed “the most complex generation.”
The conference did its best to appeal to this generation as well, with several millennials in attendance and the presentations live-streamed online for those who could not physically attend.
Attendees were asked to use the hashtag #AAA14 as they reacted to panel discussions on Twitter and other social media.
Graphic artist Jim Nuttle used giant sheets of paper on the walls to illustrate in real-time the discussions that were taking place on stage.
The drawings, which were added to throughout the day, were the most tweeted and photographed element of the conference, Vance said.
Afternoon sessions on both days of the conference delved deeper into issues that millennials and a growing number of consumers care about.
Panel discussions on meat looked at how the industry should handle growing angst about antibiotics use among livestock and chewed on the perennial farming question for this generation, “Does big equal bad?”
Scientists on another panel discussion discussed their definitions of environmental sustainability as it relates to animal agriculture.
They presented the problems — how to feed a growing world with a growing appetite for meat with fewer resources — and presented some of the futuristic solutions that are being researched.
Food consultant Nancy Kruse gave a riveting presentation on the food trends being driven by millennials and led a panel discussion on what they are inclined to look for while shopping.
She said protein is still a powerful selling point for many products and an area on which more meat producers can capitalize — especially if they create more snack-sized products to compete with protein-packed items like yogurt and protein bars.
Kruse pointed out that, even if producers don’t understand the controversy or find their processes inherently safe, they will have to answer questions about topics of concern like genetically engineered foods and “pink slime.”
“You folks have got to get yourselves tuned into these conversations,” she said.
Despite the efforts of programs like Meatless Mondays to reduce meat consumption in the country, Kruse said students and young people don’t like the feeling that “we’re taking something away.”
She said “real food” initiatives have been a good thing for animal agriculture, causing the country to again embrace products like butter, eggs and bacon. Butter consumption is up 24 percent in the past decade, she said.
Presentations from the conference are scheduled to be available online by the end of May at animalagalliance.org.