Overall red meat consumption may be in decline due to cost, but perceptions about the industry are going in the opposite direction.
The latest consumer sentiment research, conducted annually since 2010 by Pollinate on behalf of Meat & Livestock Australia, has found a majority of Australians consider red meat production as vital for economic growth (77%) and job creation (72%).
It's also shown over half (53%) of Australians want to learn more about how red meat is produced.
MLA managing director Jason Strong said this year's consumer insights indicated that higher levels of industry knowledge were linked to better perceptions of the industry.
"A key takeaway from the research is that the more consumers learn about the industry, the better their perceptions become," Mr Strong said.
"It goes to the heart of the very positive story our industry can tell around environmental sustainability, human nutrition, and animal welfare.
"We are proud that when consumers have a look under the bonnet, they are proud of the industry and its immense contribution to society."
Trust an important commodity
Trust in the industry increased to 66% from 60% last year, indicating "the more you know, the more you appreciate and understand the industry".
“Consumers appreciate the opportunity to analyse the nutritional aspects of red meat, understand its production methods, and sustainability efforts," Mr Strong said.
"When they do, this leads to a more positive view of the industry's contributions to the Australian economy and job creation."
The research also found greater knowledge of the industry was associated with a greater likelihood of red meat consumption.
It found 26% of consumers who feel knowledgeable about the beef and lamb industry are more likely to consume red meat compared to a year ago, and 15% of all other Australians are more likely to eat red meat compared to this time last year.
Mr Strong noted that while nearly one in three (28%) Australians think they have knowledge of the industry, 53% also want to learn more about red meat production.
“This is because red meat production is intertwined with various aspects of Australian life, including the economy, culture, health, and environment,” he said.
“There’s also a strong desire to see kids learn about the industry in Australian schools, with 71% agreeing with this statement.”
Health and nutrition driving consumption
Of the Australians who are looking to increase red meat consumption, 88% are driven by health and nutrition.
Breaking this down further, these reasons included accessing a source of iron, protein, nutrition and to generally improve their health.
Only 5% of Australians identify as vegetarians, which is the lowest figure recorded to date.
In addition, over half (55%) of claimed vegetarians eat fish or meat occasionally, so only 2% of the population are what is considered “true” vegetarians or vegans.
How'd that get there?
Interestingly, the average meat eater would prefer not to think about how red meat gets on their plate.
Of the approximately 1500 respondents, 60% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "I don’t want to know how cattle/sheep are slaughtered, I just want to know it’s as ‘humane’ as possible".
This sentiment, and the increasingly positive perception of the industry, has been posited as a reason fewer people are feeling guilty about eating red meat.