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Purdue researchers unveil “meat sentiment” dashboard

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Researchers at Purdue University have created a dashboard to measure “meat sentiment.” (Courtesy of creative commons and powerplantop)

Researchers at Purdue University have created a dashboard to track what they call “meat sentiment” – or how different meats are performing on social media and in the news.

The dashboard breaks down the number of articles and social media posts about poultry, beef, pork, and plant-based alternatives and whether those posts were positive or negative.

Nicole Olynk Widmar is a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue. She said the dashboard can give a good snapshot of how the public perceives various food products.

“We all read in a silo. I think it gives you a little bit broader take,” she said. “So you can think about what’s really going on from a larger data set here and in a very timely fashion – much faster than we can with survey data. I think it’s useful from that perspective.”

Widmar said the project was born, in part, during the pandemic when coverage of the meat industry warned of supply chain issues and potential shortages.

“What we learned there was that, yes, there were some really negative pieces and really negative comments, but they were reasonably short-lived,” she said. “Perhaps less impactful than you would have been led to believe based on some of the media headlines.”

A recent Congressional report claimed that meatpacking companies stoked “baseless” fears of an impending shortage in order to keep workers on the job during the pandemic.

Meatpacking companies and trade groups have pushed back on those allegations.

In Indiana, from April of 2020 to July of 2022, the sentiments towards pork, beef, and poultry were all strongly net positive, scoring in the upper 30s to upper 40s. Plant-based alternatives were only barely positive – just over one point.

Sentiment toward plant-based meat alternatives can vary greatly between states. Illinois, for instance, has a net positive sentiment of 16 points. Wyoming, by contrast, has negative 16 points in sentiment.

All three of the meats measured had largely positive sentiments across every state.

Widmar said there’s one major takeaway from the dashboard.

“Overall the sentiment is pretty positive,” she said. “Certainly I’m biased – I work in this space quite heavily. I’m not sure what the average person would have guessed the general sentiment around meat to be, but it’s reasonably positive. I don’t know if that’s surprising or not.”