Global food trends are your business, beef industry told

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EATING less meat on account of health reasons and concern for the environment and animal welfare is no passing fade. And alternative meats are here to stay.

Australia's beef business should expect disruption but where its various sectors, particularly the exporting of live cattle, fall will depend on how well it understands emerging global food trends and how well it plans for them.

That was the word from international consumer and retail trend expert Professor David Hughes, a keynote speaker at the live exporters' annual conference LIVEXchange in Townsville this week.

He had another crucial piece of advice: Don't become 'addicted' to China.

Prof Hughes has a PhD in meat marketing and extensive experience with food companies and financial service organisations on three continents.

He's a wealth of knowledge and he disperses it entertainingly.

What was more interesting to Australian red meat about the fact the world was heading for a population of 10 billion by 2050 was where that growth would be and the median age of populations, he said.

The population of Africa is set to double and Asia also will see the majority of the growth.There will be 1.5b hindu or muslim people in the world within 30 years.

In Australia's key live export markets of Indonesia and Vietnam the median age will be around 30, while in Australia's highest value beef export market of Japan, it will be 47. In Africa it will be just 18.

This is important, Prof Hughes explained, because as one gets older, one eats less meat.

SEE ALSO: "Don't just brand it Aussie beef, that won't sell anymore."

Urban consumers, meanwhile, will be increasing from 4 to 6b over the next 30 years with smaller households, higher incomes and changing diets the main trends.

"By 2050 there are to be 600 mega cities by 2050 - they are great targets for your product," he said.

"Interestingly, cities are spreading horizontally more than vertically. We are running out of agricultural land and each year we're putting more into cities.

"Some Chinese cities have the same economic clout as entire countries."

Shenzhen, for example, has the same gross domestic product statistics as Sweden.

"What you have to watch is not to become over-reliant on China," Prof Hughes said.

"China has a huge influence on animal protein demand and supply globally. If the Chinese eat just one kilogram of additional beef, that's an extra 1.3bt it needs. That demand is brilliant if it goes your way but it can crucify you if it doesn't.

"Demographic forecasts indicate Chinese people will get old before they get rich, with all the associated social and health problems. Think what that means for meat consumption."

Asia in general, however, is something else.

Worldwide, demand for animal protein is expected to grow 35pc in the next two decades and most of that growth will be on Australia's doorstep - 65pc of it in countries which are already key markets for Australian beef and live exports.

However, Prof Hughes believes beef and lamb - and pork also - should 'keep out of the way in the global battle between industrially-produced chicken and fish.'

"Those will be lowest priced proteins on the market and you can't compete," he said.

Pressure point
The pressure point for red meat, he believes, will come via consumer concern for human health, the environment and animal welfare.

"There is a mega trend playing out about the impact of food production on our world. Climate-friendly diets are no fade, it's a mega deal," he said.

And on the health front, red meat is at the bottom of the recommended food triangle in all developed countries.

Meanwhile, the impact of 'relentless and well-financed' animal rights activism is not going to get less.

At the same time, the world's big meat and food companies are unleashing blended products and alternative meats.

"There's the beyond burger, Mcdonalds' meaty vegan burgers, PLT (plant lettuce tomato) launched in Canada and its first ever vegetarian happy meal for kids, the impossible whopper, Subway's vegan wrap and even the bloody Colonel has non-chicken nuggets now," Prof Hughes said.

"A proportion of people are now eco-active - research shows it's income related - and they are taking different purchase decisions based on their view.

"Social pressures are dictating food choices."

To make his point, Prof Hughes presented a slide titled "Remind Me Again What I Can't Eat" listing everything from shrimp caught by slave labour and anything containing palm oil to pork from hogs contained in stalls and cattle that have been shipped overseas.

Just how these trends play out for the live animal export trade will depend on the industry's ability to plan - to understand and meet the new trends and community expectations, Prof Hughes said.