Beef Issues Quarterly Archive

How to Measure Trust in Beef and Beef Production and Why it Matters

by Rick Husted, MBA, Vice President, Strategic Planning and Market Research, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff 

The beef industry’s 2016-2020 Long Range Plan (LRP) was adopted in the summer of 2015. The plan, whose vision is “to responsibly produce the most trusted and preferred protein in the world,” set forth to address four focused core strategies. Key to achieving these strategic goals is the ability to accurately measure progress and outcomes. One of the core strategies, Grow Consumer Trust in Beef and Beef Production, called for the development of a custom metric to make sure progress could be effectively tracked and evaluated. This trust measure, an algorithm based on six focused questions, was benchmarked in last fall’s Consumer Image Index. Following is an overview of how that measure was developed and how it will be applied to track consumer perceptions of trust in the beef industry over the next several years.


The 2016-2020 beef industry long range plan focuses on four core strategies.

Figure 1

More specifically, the trust strategy calls for more focus on antibiotic stewardship, the implementation of a certification/verification program and continued investment in beef safety initiatives. Moreover, the industry must engage the entire beef community in building consumer trust and collaborate with a broader group of industry partners and outside organizations to protect beef’s image. 

While the other core strategies had readily available measures to track progress, the trust strategy did not. As the task force of industry leaders responsible for developing the plan considered this challenge, they requested that a measure be developed that would provide this perspective. In response, the checkoff looked at a variety of potential metrics and ultimately determined that, given how much ground this strategy covers, focusing on just one area of trust would not suffice. The task started with an in-depth review of the variables tracked in the checkoff-funded Consumer Image Index, a market research study conducted annually with 1,000 consumers since 2012, capturing feedback on a wide variety of importance and performance criteria about beef and beef production.
The goal was to identify the question or questions within the survey that most directly measured trust, and that also covered variables considered “important” to the consumer in measuring their attitudes about beef’s production practices.  Consumers consider beef safety, a nutritious product, animal welfare, and responsible use of hormones and antibiotics to be important. Sustainable practices are a growing area of importance and should not be ignored.   All of the six variables chosen were shown to be positively correlated with beef consumption.  
The following more directly outlines the process taken to develop this algorithm approach. It essentially called for answering several questions to arrive at a benchmark measurement for the strongest trust segment (i.e., the group or segment of consumers who have the highest trust in those factors most highly correlated with beef consumption and confidence in the beef industry’s production practices). The result was not just defining this Strong Trust Segment (STS) of consumers, but also sizing that segment and learning more about what shapes consumer trust attitudes and where the greatest likelihood for improving overall trust resides. The goal over the life of the long range plan is to grow the size of this segment of consumers, and consequently, positively measure growth in trust in our production practices. With greater emphasis being placed today on how food is raised, we believe this will not only create trust in our production practices, but carry over into increased beef consumption.  
Consideration 1

Is it reasonable to expect that an increase in the size of the defined STS could have a positive effect on industry volume?
  • Yes. Consumers with that level of trust put a premium on beef usage and have higher positive perceptions of beef/beef production performance.

Consideration 2

Is there room for growth in the size of the STS, assuming reasonable effort from the industry?

  • Yes. The opportunity lies in growing trust among those consumers who are close, but just outside, the STS in their current levels of trust.

Consideration 3

Is there consistency over time for an aggregate/combination metric such as the one being used to define the STS?

  • Yes. Although the metric was defined this year using a few new questions, a surrogate measure of existing, parallel questions from the Consumer Image Index (CII) going back to 2012 does show consistency over time.
So, how did we ask the question?
In the 2015 annual Consumer Image Index survey, the question was asked this way:
"On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is ‘do not trust at all’ and 10 is ‘completely trust’, how would you rate your trust that…"
  • The beef industry is doing everything they can to make beef safe
  • The beef you eat is healthy
  • The beef industry uses sustainable practices
  • The beef industry uses antibiotics responsibly
  • The beef industry uses hormones responsibly
  • The beef industry treats animals humanely

How was the algorithm ultimately determined?
The next, and final step was to come up with an algorithm that would clearly define a trust segment that could be benchmarked for objective setting. Based on all of the information at hand, and the results of the 2015 Consumer Image Index survey, the following was decided.
  • Take all of the consumers who gave at least five of the six questions above a rating of seven or better on the scale of 0 to 10.
By doing that we were able to size the Strong Trust Segment at 33 percent of consumers 18-65 years old and involved in household grocery shopping and meal decisions.  This approach not only yields a segment with tremendous upside, but also one large enough to facilitate additional diagnostics about who they are, what forms their attitudes about beef, and what trust related messages might resonate with them, and others, to drive growth in the segment.  Again, this makes sense because we know that consumers are increasingly asking questions about how their food is raised, and a higher level of trust should translate into increased beef demand over time. 
So where do we go from here?    
Figure 2

Now that this measure is in place and we will be tracking it year over year, a goal needed to be set. With input from the Long Range Plan task force co-chairmen, it was determined that a realistic, yet somewhat aggressive objective would be to increase the size of the trust segment from 33 percent to 36 percent of consumers.  With the beef supply growing steadily, it is critical for the industry to continue working hard to encourage greater trust by focusing on the positives of beef while at the same time addressing barriers among consumers.
The challenge for the beef industry, and the beef checkoff, is to aggressively pursue efforts and activities that will positively impact consumer trust in our product.
Additional Resources
  • A dashboard was also developed to track progress on all four long range plan core strategies.

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Fall 2016, Research Findings

October 10, 2016