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More organic meat on the shopping list please

Meat of a higher quality and with a background that makes for a good story is to induce consumers to buy more organic meat. This is the rationale behind the research project SUMMER at Aarhus University.

2012.06.21 | Søren Tobberup Hansen

Scientists from Aarhus University will try to make organic meat more popular with consumers by improving the quality of the meat. Photo: AU

Organic meat production currently occupies a very modest niche in the market and has thus failed to keep pace with the positive development in the popularity of other organic products in recent years. This development is something that scientists from Aarhus University will try to change. In the research project SUMMER they will explore the possibilities for increasing the share of organic meat products on the market so that they are just as accessible as other organic products.

The reason why organic meat has not been able to penetrate the market to the same degree as other organic products is probably that you simply do not get the extra taste for the extra money you have to pay. This is the opinion of head of research John E. Hermansen, who leads the project:

- Many consumers have a positive perception of organic foods, but organic meat carries a far higher price premium than conventional meat without consumers necessarily feeling that the product has a correspondingly higher or different sensory quality, says John E. Hermansen.

The scientists behind the project are proceeding on the hypothesis that the way forward for organic meat production is to develop products that are qualitatively very different from conventional products, so that the premium price can be justified.

To achieve the objectives of the project, the scientists will develop new production methods with a focus on intangible qualities such as an improved utilization of local resources and healthy animals that are kept on grass. Animal growth and feed utilisation should, however, also be taken into account so that the economy of the farmer is not put at risk. The new production methods will form the basis for the development of products that differ in terms of flavour, tenderness and juiciness. The scientists will also develop appropriate marketing strategies to tempt consumers to buy the organic products rather than the conventional ones.

- We expect that a good eating quality and high conceptual quality would be attractive to many more consumers and thus result in an increased market share, says John E. Hermansen.

Quality meat with side benefits

In the project, the scientists will among other things investigate how free-range pigs and poultry are able to cover their nutritional needs by spending more time foraging than they do today.

- By letting the animals express their natural behaviour, and here foraging is an important part, we expect that organic meat production may increase the overall resource utilization in the system, while also adding specific quality parameters to the meat, says John E. Hermansen.

In the production of organic veal calves, the scientists have examined the quality of the meat from calves fed grass and specific herbs. The experiment showed that the meat from calves fed a diet containing herbs acquired a more intense flavour than from calves fed a conventional diet and it also contained more vitamins and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, which are considered nutritionally beneficial to humans. These are important factors when trying to make organic veal more interesting for consumers.

- The nutritional benefits can be used to promote organic veal in the market, says associate professor Margrethe Therkildsen, who participates in the project.

From the point of view of promotion of the meat vis-à-vis consumers, the scientists conducted a preliminary analysis of interviews with consumers, chefs and meat buyers, and it showed that the availability of information about the products and about animal health and welfare are important factors for the sale of organic meat. It is thus not only the meat that has to be sold, but also the good story behind the product, and this will also be an important focus of the project.

The three-year project is funded by the Organic Research, Development and Demonstration Programme (RDD) under GUDP. The project is financed by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries and coordinated by ICROFS. In addition to Aarhus University, project partners include Knowledge Centre for Agriculture, Development Centre for Free-range Farm Animals and farmer Karl Schmidt. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

Read more about the project here.

For further information contact: Head of research John E. Hermansen, Department of Agroecology, telephone: +45 8715 8017, email: john.hermansen@agrsci.dk