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Trends in Animal Welfare Concerns and Meat Demand

I'm preparing a talk at next week's annual meeting of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) on trends in consumer concerns about animal welfare, and I thought while I'm at it I'd share a few of the results here.  All the results below come from the Food Demand Survey (FooDS), a monthly survey of over 1,000 consumers that has been ongoing for over four years (each of the graphs below contains information obtained from more than 48,000 survey responses).

One of the first things we ask in the FooDS relates to "food values".  A list of 12 items is presented to respondents and they are asked which are most/least important when buying food.  Respondents have to click and drag four of the items into a "most important" box and also put four in a "least important" box, leaving four in neither box.  The nice thing about this questioning approach is that it requires a tradeoff - respondents can't say all issues are important and they have to indicate some as least important.  To create a scale of importance, I simply calculate the percent of times an issue is placed in the most important box and subtract it from the percent of times it is in the least important box, creating a measure that ranges from 100% to -100%.  

So, where does animal welfare fall in importance?  As the graph shows, it is 7th in the middle of the pack (this graph combines all the data from the last four years).  Animal welfare is much less important than taste, safety, nutrition and price but more important than origin, fairness, or novelty.  About 18% of consumers place animal welfare in the most important box and 31% place it in the least important box, creating a score of 18%-31%=-14%

The importance of animal welfare has increased a bit over time.  Here are the month-by-month averages going back more than four years.  Animal welfare importance has remained fairly stable for the past year, hovering around -10%, but this is higher than in 2013, when it was as low as -20%.

One question that might arise is "so what"?  Do these statements of importance on animal welfare and other food values have any relation to meat demand?  The answer is "yes" - there are some strong correlations.  In FooDS, we also ask people to make nine choices between different cuts of meat (and two non-meat items) at different prices.  A crude index of demand can be calculated as the number of times (out of nine) a meat product, say beef steak, is selected minus the number of times (out of nine) a non-meat item is selected (this produces a measure that ranges from -9 to +9).  Here are estimated relationships between food values and demand for steak and ground beef (controlling for demographics and other factors). 

 Relationship between food values and steak demand

Relationship between food values and steak demand

 Relationship between food values and ground beef

Relationship between food values and ground beef

The above graphs show that people who have higher concern for animal welfare have lower demand for steak and ground beef (recall the vertical axis is a demand index that ranges from -9 to +9; for reference the mean demand index for steak is 0.9 and the mean for ground beef is 1.32).

Results indicate that if an individual who indicated animal welfare as the most important food value (a score of +1) instead indicated animal welfare as a least important food value (a score of -1), steak would be chosen -0.42 fewer times on average. Similarly for nutrition, results indicate that if an individual who indicated nutrition as the most important food value (a score of +1) instead indicated nutrition as a least important food value (a score of -1), steak would be chosen -0.33 fewer times on average.  Conversely, people who think taste and appearance are relatively important food values have higher demand for steak and ground beef.  Not surprisingly, importance on price is a positive contributor for ground beef demand but a negative contributor for steak demand.   If an individual with the four most favorable food values for steak demand were replaced with an individual with the four least favorable food values, then steak demand would increase by 2.49 (given that the mean is 0.9, this is a very large change). The take-home: to the extent animal welfare increases in importance over time, these results suggest demand for beef will fall (I find similar results for pork and chicken products too).  

By, the way, I can place these food values in the context of other correlates with demand.  Here is a comparison of different determinants of steak demand (the upper left-hand image is the food values graph that was already shown but rescaled so comparisons are made to the lowest impact).  Next to food values, household income, political ideology, and gender have the biggest impacts on steak demand.  Steak demand is higher for higher income and more conservative individuals and for males.  

 Correlates with Steak Demand

Correlates with Steak Demand

In FooDS, we also ask, for more than 16 different issues,  “Overall, how much have you heard or read about each of the following topics in the past two weeks” and we classify responses as 1=nothing; 2=a little; 3=a moderate amount; 4=quite a bit; 5=a great deal.  Below are the results pertaining to animal welfare related issues.

 Awareness of issues in the news over time

Awareness of issues in the news over time

Result seem to suggest an up-tick in awareness of animal-welfare related issues during 2016, which subsequently declined.  However, this increase in awareness also occurred for ALL the issues we track (the solid black line), many of which (like E. Coli, pink slime, etc) have nothing to do with animal welfare.  

A similar pattern emerges in relation to "concern" for the same set of 16 or so issues over time.  We ask, “How concerned are you that the following pose a health hazard in the food that you eat in the next two weeks”, where 1=very unconcerned; 2= somewhat unconcerned; 3=neither concerned nor unconcerned; 4=somewhat concerned; 5=very concerned.  (Yes, I realize, asking whether animal welfare is a "health hazard" is strange, but that's what data I have).  The graph below slows a slight uptick in concern for animal welfare related issues, but this is also true for ALL the issues we track (the solid black line).  In other words, people don't seem to be discriminating much between animal welfare and other food issues.  

 Concern for various issues over time

Concern for various issues over time

Finally, one of the questions we ask every month is whether respondents are vegetarian or vegan.  There has been an increase in this self-reported measure over time (see here or here for my previous discussions of these data).  In early 2014, the figure was between 3% and 4% of respondents.  This has roughly doubled and we now routinely see values between 7% and 8% of respondents self-identifying as vegetarian or vegan.  

 Are you a vegetarian of vegan?  (% saying "yes")

Are you a vegetarian of vegan?  (% saying "yes")