Comment: The advertising world and the meat and dairy sector have more in common than you may think. Nikki Verbeet explains.

Good basic marketing tells us that a product or service can benefit from a thing called 'point of difference', which is just a fancy way of making your business different from your competition and promoting that consistently.

The basic idea is that if you have two identical tyre shops, for example, selling the same tyres and offering the same service etc – except that the owner happens to have a three-legged dog in the workshop – then you'd use the three-legged dog to market your business, because customers really pick up on quirky things like three-legged dogs.

"Come in and say hi to our three-legged dog, Bruce. Like Bruce, we've got 25 percent off this month…"

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Customers would likely come in and mention Bruce, the three-legged dog, which also serves to work as a 'trace component.'

A trace component in advertising can be useful because the business owner knows exactly where the business has come from.

Good advertising people, like the ones you'll find at NZME (shameless plug here), are great at spotting these golden 'point of difference' nuggets and, if they can't find one, well sometimes we'll even create one, such as, "Come into ABC Clinic and ask for Karyn with a 'Y'."

Good customer service an expectation

There are certain things that don't work well as a 'point of difference' and one of those things is customer service.

If you are marketing your business to a person who doesn't know you from Adam or Eve, and your advertising focuses on your "ah-MAZing customer service", potential customers won't care because good customer service is an expectation they have. We all expect good customer service when we buy something.

In the same way that good customer service is an expectation for customers of meat and dairy, environment and animal welfare has also become an expectation by consumers. We can't swim against the tide on this one.

I have also seen companies promote meat products as 'grass fed', 'GMO free' 'antibiotic free', 'hormone free' and then get trolled on social media. Why? The reason is because, once again, New Zealand consumers have an expectation of those things when they buy meat.

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This is great customer feedback, by the way, and we should never be afraid of getting this type of feedback. Feedback is a gift. We need to know what spins our customers' wheels and what doesn't.

So where does this leave us? How can we differentiate meat and dairy from other protein sources? What's a good point of difference?

Don't like the conversation? Change it

Instead of going head to head with other protein sources about what they are saying around the environment or animal welfare, we need to change the conversation.

We need to focus instead on a better point of difference – nutrient density.

Energy-dense foods contain more calories than nutrients, whereas nutrient-rich foods contain more nutrients than calories.

Qualifying nutrients include protein, fibre, vitamins (A, C and E), calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. Saturated fat, added sugar and sodium are nutrients that should be limited.

Plant-based foods claim to have a lower environmental impact than animal-sourced foods (on a unit-weight basis), but this is offset by their lower nutrient density.

Nutrient density an opportunity

Consumers are very motivated by nutrients. Have you noticed the number of supplement shops popping up? How about retailers like Tank, which sell smoothies where you can add vitamins? Supplements, vitamins and protein shakes are all big business.

Food and nutrition writer Niki Bezzant estimates that more than one billion dollars a year is spent on supplements in New Zealand (in Australia the figure is over $9 billion) while a 2015 Southern Cross Healthcare Group survey suggested more than 1.5 million Kiwis regularly take supplements – many spending $50 or more a month to do so.

However, nutritionists tell us that there's no better way to get our vitamins than through a good diet for better absorption.

Therein lies the opportunity for meat and dairy. The benefit of 'nutrient density' aligns with meat and dairy perfectly – we just need to start consistently communicating this. Labelling, education, promotions, advertising…

Considerations around the environmental impact of foods need to be linked to concerns about nutrient density and health.

Try as we might, technology still hasn't managed to make a machine that is able to convert grass (which we can't eat) into something we can eat (meat and dairy).

From a red meat production perspective, 93 percent of beef and sheep farm land is not suitable for crop production (and the 7 percent that is suitable is often used for crops anyway).

So we are converting what would otherwise be unusable hill country into high-quality, nutrient-dense protein, which is a very efficient use of land.

The point at which the higher carbon footprint of nutrient-dense foods like meat and dairy is offset by their higher nutritional value is a priority area for additional research and marketing.

As farmers continue to work hard towards reducing their environmental impacts, the opportunities around nutrient density will only increase.

- Nikki Verbeet is an NZME commercial manager.