The 'new normal' of communication in meat companies
Ángela Fernández, agri-food journalist
One of the workhorses of the meat sector over the last few years has been the need to counteract false myths, sometimes driven by currents opposed to meat consumption, or by a lack of knowledge about its productive activity. Many companies and organisations representing the sector are working hard to raise awareness of the work behind a steak, a ham or any other meat product, as well as to highlight the importance of a sector that not only provides a key part of the food pyramid, but is also intrinsically linked to the survival and development of the rural environments in which it is based.
Communication plays an essential role in all of this, a tool that the Spanish National Association of Meat Industries (ANICE) considers "fundamental when it comes to defending the reputation of the meat industry", as it allows its socio-economic importance to be highlighted, "offering information, based on scientific evidence, that highlights its role and contribution to the country". This work is even more important in today's hyper-connected society, where citizens have more information at their fingertips than ever before but, paradoxically, this easy access, and the difficulty in discerning between what is and what is not truthful, can lead to misinformation.
"There are interest groups that see livestock farming and the meat sector as enemies of health or the environment from a reductionist, unfair, unsupportive and even harmful to our economy point of view and that violate the rights of consumers to receive truthful information", points out Óscar Mozún, director of Strategic Planning at Tactics Europe, the agency responsible for some of the recent communication campaigns of several interprofessional organisations in the meat sector. To deal with negative messages and "fake news", journalist Patricia Mota sees the need to "achieve, through proactive and professionalised communication, to send positive messages, which provide and transmit transparency", and this involves "carrying out actions to transmit peace of mind and reassure consumers, on issues such as health or values such as animal welfare, respect for the environment or commitment to sustainability".
Some strategic lines
Companies are navigating in this maelstrom, forging their way forward to assert their work and the quality of their products. This is the work of leading companies such as Grupo Tello, with more than half a century of experience in the production of meat products, or Grupo Miguel Vergara, which has been dedicated to the world of beef for more than four decades and owns the largest herd of Angus cattle in our country.
The general manager of Grupo Tello, Alfonso Alcázar, indicates that today, and in general terms, the sector must maintain "two groups of fundamental axes active in terms of communication: that of health parallel to food safety, and that of the meat industry's commitment to sustainability and environmental care parallel to compliance with the guarantee of animal welfare". To promote the value of its products, the company works to "disseminate truthful information about the needs covered and the health benefits of meat consumption. With regard to environmental aspects, we communicate what we do because we do what we say we do: significant investments in farms and industry to reduce the environmental impact and carbon footprint"; and to reach a younger audience, they focus their strategy "on the digital sphere and more specifically on social networks".
Grupo Miguel Vergara also has a lot to say about the importance of the digital environment and communication. "The main challenge today in the meat sector is to ensure that there is both internal and external communication, that both converge, are bidirectional and are given the importance they deserve, together with the gradual digitalisation of the same," says the Group's Marketing and Communication Director, Elena Revilla. The current challenges are being met "through new (or not so new) communication and sales channels, such as social networks and e-commerce via marketplaces, not only via computers, but also and especially via smartphones".
To banish false arguments about the sector, "there is nothing better than education", he says, and here the work of the interprofessional organisations and other bodies is fundamental: "We have to bring meat consumption not only to young people, but also to adults, seniors and children, because the nutritional properties of meat are important and necessary in every age group".
As Elena Revilla points out, companies are not alone in this task of communicating the qualities of their products. Proof of this are the many campaigns launched by the interprofessional organisations representing the different meat sectors, from pork, beef, sheep, goats and rabbits, among others. Their most recent initiatives share common threads: highlighting the benefits of the different meats, encouraging their consumption, both nationally and internationally, as well as multi-channel dissemination, both online and through conventional media.
One of them, the Interprofessional Food and Agriculture Organisation for White-Capped Pigs (Interporc), points out that the main challenge for the whole of the sector they represent is to "sell more and better" their successes abroad. In this sense, they are carrying out "two types of campaign: product and sector campaigns". In the first case, they convey to society "the benefits of consuming white pig meat and products", always based on "scientific evidence", and in the second case they try to transmit everything that the sector contributes to society, "employment, wealth, infrastructures, life in rural areas, etc.".
Another representative organisation for pork, but in this case Iberian pork, is the Interprofessional Association of Iberian Pigs (ASICI), whose lines of communication are currently aimed at "the emotional, rather than the rational", since, as its president, Antonio Prieto, points out, Iberian pork is a product closely related to "pleasure". For this reason, its current "promotional vectors are focused, on the one hand, on the new consumer trends and habits that are emerging during this time of confinement and crisis due to the coronavirus, and, on the other, to continue linking all this communication to the part of enjoyment and to inform, so that the consumer knows how to differentiate the product when it comes to buying it".
Challenges in the COVID era
The crisis caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 has generated a new scenario, in which, as Óscar Mozún points out, "public opinion has realised the importance of essential sectors, such as the agri-food sector, in overcoming the effects of such a serious pandemic", and in this context, the sector must know how to communicate its "strategic nature". ANICE agrees that it is time to "defend the good image and reputation" achieved "thanks to the exemplary work carried out during the pandemic". Since the beginning of the crisis, the association has conveyed messages of calm to the public in the face of fears of shortages, and has defended "strict compliance with the safety and hygiene measures of the Spanish meat industry".
Faced with this type of circumstance, "agri-food companies in general and meat companies in particular cannot and must not remain silent either internally or externally, not only because of the nutritional benefits of meat consumption as a source of vitamins and proteins in any healthy diet, but also because of the social role that the meat sector is playing", says Elena Revilla, head of Marketing and Communication at Grupo Miguel Vergara, who recalls that the sector has not only "not stopped its activity during the pandemic to be able to supply basic foodstuffs", but has also "joined forces to show its most charitable side by donating tonnes of products to charitable organisations and foundations". In this sense, Patricia Mota highlights the deployment of "different solidarity actions among meat companies, implementing their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies, which play an important role at a communicative level, as they benefit the image of the entire meat industry".
The general manager of Grupo Tello, Alfonso Alcázar, also points out the "key role" that the meat companies and the rest of the companies in the food sector have played in this crisis, and points out the importance of "transmitting normality, security and gratitude for the acts of solidarity" in the field of external communication. With regard to the workforce, they have reinforced the messages about corporate social responsibility towards society and gratitude for the effort made, and have insisted "ad nauseam on the personal safety measures to be taken, through a constant updating of information through all types of internal communication channels" available.
Also at an internal level, in companies in the white layer pig sector "specific training programmes have been carried out" to keep workers "informed and up to date", according to Interporc. During this period, the interprofessional has dedicated part of its communication "to highlighting the thousands of professionals who work on farms, in industry and distribution", through campaigns such as "#ElSectorPorcinoNoPara, with a presence on the internet, social networks and radio and television". Part of this campaign has been dedicated to the horeca channel, with the aim of supporting the recovery of activity in bars and restaurants.
It is precisely the horeca, together with "meat retailers", that ASICI has targeted in its campaign "The Iberian Restaurant", with which it has sought to encourage consumption in the domestic market and at the same time provide support to two sectors that have been hit by the crisis and which represent two important marketing channels for its products.