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New online platform tracks consumer opinions on meat

Disruptions in the meat-market supply chain brought on by the pandemic changed consumers' perceptions of the industry. With social media and online news, consumers use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share their sentiments.

Staying on top of social media and its data can be cumbersome because of its many caveats, especially in agriculture. There's also a gap between the two. 

"It's just sitting there and not being used as well as it could be," says Nicole Olynk Widmar, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue.

That is something Widmar and her colleague, Jayson Lusk, hope to change with their #Meat dashboard, an online platform that uses social media analytics to understand better the reputation of beef, pork, chicken, and alternative meat. 

The technology gives its users weekly reports on the social media and online news footprint of meat proteins and traffic in all 50 states. 
"The general perception is more positive than what the average person might guess," says Widmar.

To collect the dashboard's data, Widmar and Lusk collaborated with NetBase Quid, a market research company. The dashboard allows users to narrowly or broadly research the volume of consumers' attitudes data, such as looking at an individual state's data or data from a specific time. 

They also wrote search algorithms to find data directly related to meat production or eating meat. For example, the algorithms exclude social media posts referencing famous cartoon pigs, "Peppa" and "Porky." 

The algorithms also exclude posts and online news that mention calling someone "a chicken" or saying that someone has "a beef" with another person instead of talking about meat for eating.

From April 2020 to July 2022, the dashboard collected data showing consumers' average sentiment nationwide toward protein. The dashboard uses a color-coded sentiment gradient that ranges from dark green for 100% positive to dark red for 100% negative.

Poultry garnered 3 million posts, and pork had 2 million posts. Both had positive reactions of 32 on the dashboard's sentiment scale. With over 1 million posts, beef came out with a positive net view of 29. Plant-based meat alternatives had a net sentiment of 26 with over 387,000 posts.

The dashboard's analysis didn't support the online media's narrative that the supply chain system was "broken" but showed that it was strained or had responded efficiently.  

"That's why the dashboard is interesting beyond some of the research that we've been able to publish," Widmar says.

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