Merck Animal Health’s Allison Flinn Talks about Results of Consumer Transparency Research Study

Listen to Ron Hays talk with Allison Flinn about Merck Animal Health’s Consumer Transparency Research Study.

Merck Animal Health, known as MSD Animal Health outside of the United States and Canada, a division of Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, N.J., USA (NYSE:MRK), announced on January 31, the results of the company’s first-ever consumer transparency research study.

At the 2023 Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans, Senior Farm and Ranch Broadcaster, Ron Hays got the chance to visit with the Executive Director of Value Chain & Consumer Affairs at Merck Animal Health and author of the study, Allison Flinn, about the research study.

The consumer transparency study focused on consumers’ growing interest in transparency and its importance in their purchasing decisions and brand trust. The study explored consumer desire for transparency in animal protein, such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy, and their perceptions of industry transparency when it comes to animal welfare and sustainability. It also looked at the interplay of transparency and traceability and consumers’ willingness to pay for transparency label claims.

“Merck Animal Health conducted the transparency in animal health protein consumer research study because we really feel at our company that we have a role to play in improving the health and well-being of animals, empowering farmers and ranchers with the technology and the solutions they need to continue to invest in their business, continue to grow their business and to really provide solutions to unmet needs,” Flinn said. “We know that consumer preferences certainly impact and drive evolution and change within the industry, and because we feel we have a role to play in contributing to animal health and wellbeing, we want to also help connect all of that good work that farmers and ranchers are doing on their operations to building consumer trust in food labels.”

Flinn said many things were learned from their research, one of those being that transparency is extremely important to consumers.

“Over two-thirds of consumers report it to be very or highly important to them, and it is really for personal reasons,” Flinn said. “They are thinking about the health and nutrition of the products that they are bringing home, and beef certainly has a great story there,” Flinn said.

Flinn said consumers hold beef to a high standard, and over 69 percent of consumers want to know where their beef is coming from.

“That is a great story because we know that our farmers and ranchers and their families are working to produce that high-quality beef for consumers,” Flinn said. “So, really being able to connect the dots there and let them know where it is coming from is an opportunity for transparency on a label.”

A technology used at Merck Animal Health called DNA Traceback, Flinn said, uses DNA to track where the beef sold at the supermarket comes from.

“The survey results tell us consumers want more information than ever in order to make informed decisions about the food they put on their dinner tables,” Flinn said. “We work to be the industry leader in improving animal health through our biopharmaceutical and technology portfolio solutions, and we also have the technology that can provide greater transparency and allow consumers to make informed decisions. In fact, our DNA TRACEBACK® technology, which uses nature’s bar code – DNA – with data analytics, provides an evidence-based animal protein traceability solution to accurately trace meat and seafood that is verifiable from farm-to-table to help build trust in food labels.”

The DNA TRACEBACK platform is the most advanced meat traceability solution and the leading technology on the market that verifies the exact origin of meat products for the food producer, food retailer and consumer. Each animal in the program is DNA sampled so that in every stage of the production chain – from the farm gate, the processing plant and right through to the restaurant plate – the exact origin of meat or seafood is verified. A sample of each animal’s DNA code is captured at slaughter and assigned a unique barcode number. This DNA number is then linked to the animal and can be traced through the supply chain all the way to individual cuts of meat served in restaurants.

Flinn said it was uncovered in Merck Animal Health’s consumer research that consumers are willing to pay a premium of up to five percent for transparent labels.

“That value captured, that five percent, if you think about that across all the different cuts of meat they could be buying, really does connect back to growing the pie for farmers and ranchers to be able to sell their cattle on programs and gain the additional value out of that hard work that they put in,” Flinn said.

Study Methodology
The consumer transparency study surveyed more than 1,000 consumers who represent the U.S. shopper. The study defined transparency as knowing how food was grown, raised, and made. Traceability was defined as knowing where foods come from, or more specifically, being able to follow the movement of food products and ingredients through the supply chain.

Highlights from the study include:

  • Two-thirds or 66% of consumers reported transparency in animal proteins (meat, fish, eggs and dairy) is extremely or very important and the reasons are personal – health and nutrition top the list;
  • 86% of consumers who reported transparency is important also rank traceability as extremely/very important and 40% of those consumers also want to know where the livestock comes from;
  • Over 50% of consumers surveyed reported they were willing to pay a 5% premium for transparency on the label and want more information than ever about how their food is grown and raised to make informed decisions at the grocery store;
  • High-transparency seekers, or those who consider transparency most important to their purchasing decisions and are willing to pay for it on the label, are typically millennial, non-Caucasian, educated males who live in urban areas with their children – and they do the grocery shopping;
  • Environmental sustainability and animal welfare are important animal protein purchase considerations with 55% surveyed reporting environmental sustainability as very/extremely important and 66% reporting animal care/treatment as extremely important/very important.

“Sustainability, nutrition, food safety, and animal welfare are all topics consumers want to know more about, and we know greater transparency builds trust,” said Dr. Flinn. “Consumers also want to know the brands they buy from are transparent, and this research provides insights into how farmers, ranchers, food brands, and allied industry partners like Merck Animal Health can collaborate to meet their expectations.”

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