Today, trying to keep up with the millions of "Joneses" in the kitchens of America seems an impossible task - mostly because, unlike in the middle decades of the 20th century (think "The American Dream" standard), today's "Joneses" are a far more diverse, different group.
One even could argue that, today, there is no such standard; the "Joneses" are a mirage that represents nothing American families resemble any longer.
Although there is no "white picket fence" standard to which the at-home cooks of America aspire, processors who do their homework and research can find nuggets of opportunity - regardless of the protein they offer.
"Convenience" as an omnipresent consumer demand will not fade away any time soon - consumers search for convenience in everything, whether it's meal preparation, shopping, banking and finance, health care - you name it, and consumers want the product or service to meet their needs, from a satisfaction, cost and time standpoint.
Under the umbrella of convenience, however, sits a variety of trends that vary by industry. According to the sources we spoke with about these trends, one of the more prevalent demands being placed upon meat and poultry products is the need for versatility. Every protein processor, regardless of species, can take advantage of this consumer demand in their protein products.
John Lundeen, senior executive director, market research, National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), and a contractor for the Beef Checkoff Program, believes this trend - "a la carte eating" - started at the nation's breakfast tables.
"At breakfast, you put three boxes of cereal on the table, and I can have Cheerios, my kids could have Frosted Flakes - everybody kind of started to have their own meal," he explains. "That's moving over into lunch and dinner. My wife might have a salad. I want to have some protein. My kids want cheese and macaroni.
"Now that there are all these quick solutions, you can do that - you become a short-order cook," Lundeen adds.
Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing, National Pork Board, sees a similar trend helping to spark the exponential rise in the popularity of pulled pork recently.
"In this fast-paced world, consumers are always looking for good tasting, convenient foods that are reasonably priced," he says. "The pulled pork trend has helped consumers to better understand that pork can be an easy and convenient protein. It has also allowed them to use pork in many versatile ways, whether it is simple sandwiches or as a tostada or even on a pizza."
Bill Roenigk, National Chicken Council senior vice president and market analyst, says he has seen data pointing toward a similar diversified use of product in the chicken segment as well.
"Homemakers are increasingly taking advantage of boneless/skinless chicken breast meat's value, convenience, nutrition and shelf-life to roast enough product on the weekend to hold and store in the coldest part of their refrigerators for use as a basic ingredient for three or so home meals during the following week," he explains. "This trend has been apparent for at least 10 years and shows little, if any, [sign of] easing."
Furthermore, although the United States has historically favored white meat chicken in its meals, Americans seem to be including more dark meat in their at-home meal preparation.
"More homemakers are also including boneless/skinless thigh meat in their weekly chicken roasting ritual," he says. "The dark meat offers a favorable option and more variety to the evening meals and carried lunches. The boneless/skinless chicken meat, both white and dark, can be used for a quick stir-fry recipes, chicken salad, on-top-of-mixed-greens-salads, or baked with any assortment of fresh or frozen vegetables."
Fleming believes the impact of price increases at the retail store will determine whether consumers pick up one protein over another.
"We believe there is an opportunity for pork to gain share as consumers trade between proteins and cuts based on pricing," he relays. The Pork Board's "Pork Be Inspired" marketing program aims to capitalize on that opportunity by touting the versatility of pork in a variety of ways.
On the beef side of the table, Lundeen says the industry can learn much from its own entrenched staple of versatility - ground beef. Beef processors must think about how to make other products more easily divisible. In Lundeen's "a la carte eating" household, ground beef, or even beef strips, can be used for any number of obvious single-person dishes, from tacos for the kids to a protein dish for Dad. The key is expanding the reach to less obvious dishes, and getting consumers to make that connection as well.
"How do I make sure Mom knows she can add ground beef to that salad, or some beef strips that she can quickly microwave or skillet-cook?" Lundeen says. "You want to serve as many people in that family as possible - capture as many of those plates as you can.
"It's just a different way of thinking about how to have a product packaged and ready to serve a number of people in that household, in a number of ways," he concludes.