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Beef

Growing food awareness amongst consumers is causing producers to shift their strategies for marketing their products, according to Nathan Pike, Cargill strategic marketing and technology leader.  

Sustainability defined 

“Sustainability is a much bigger deal than what it used to be,” explains Heather Tansey, Cargill sustainability director. 

“When I think of sustainability and where the conversation really began, I think of the 1980s,” she notes. “During this time, we defined sustainability as developing crops to the best of our ability today without compromising our future generations’ ability to do so.” 

“Starting in the 1990s, there was a major shift in thinking about sustainability,” she explains. “Instead of defining sustainability as simply preserving land for the future, it became about trade-offs.” 

Tansey explains these trade-offs in the modern idea of sustainability include factors such as the environment, health and economics. 

“We operate under the question of, how we are going to feed an ever-growing populating going into the future?” says Tansey. “We have to ask ourselves how we progress towards more people than ever and what trade-offs do we sacrifice to do so.” 

She notes consumers are considering sustainability now more than ever before. 

“Customers want to know where their food came from and at what cost, and as producers, this is something we have to consider,” Tansey notes. 

Future of the beef supply

Vice President of Cattle Procurement at Cargill Bill Thoni explained the shift in consumer preferences using data collected from nearly 5,000 American and Canadian consumers. 

“We surveyed 2,600 Americans and 2,400 Canadians in regards to how they go about purchasing beef products,” Thoni explains. “Participants in the study couldn’t be involved in the livestock industry, food industry, work for the media or in research.” 

Thoni explains beef quality and price consistently ranked as top priorities among the 5,000 surveyed participants. 

“When we think about beef sales, we have to remember beef is often a celebratory type meal,” Thoni notes. “People want to buy Prime quality steaks and ribs to celebrate things such as birthdays, promotions and other major life events.” 

“Beef quality is as high as it’s ever been,” says Thoni. “Ten years ago, we might have seen one to two percent of cuts grading at Prime and today we see seven to 10 percent of cuts grading Prime.” 

He notes improvement of genetics and an overall decrease in corn prices have also contributed to the increased quality of beef we see on the market today. 

“While people want quality, they also rank marketing schemes such as grass-fed or antibiotic-free as very important,” according to Thoni. “The ranking of importance of these labels doesn’t coincide with the preference of price considering these programs represent less than five percent of the market.” 

Unconventional claims

“People are more concerned about the learning the ins and outs of the food system now than ever before,” says Pike. “We have to take into account today’s generation is an average of two generations removed from the farm, so this knowledge isn’t common.” 

He explains many consumers have begun to associate labels such as antibiotic ‒ and hormone ‒ free as being higher quality. 

“Studies have shown consumers rank claims such as antibiotic- and hormone-free as very important,” Pike says. “The problem is, they rank price above these two things but expect these products to be priced the same as conventionally produced products.” 

“Basically, what producers are asking for is a specially produced product that is still priced the same, if not better, than a conventionally produced product,” says Pike.

“So, as producers, we have to ask ourselves how we can meet all these consumers wants and needs,” Pike comments. 

He explains unconventional production such as grass-fed beef makes up only a fraction of the market, around three percent, but it is growing. These products, however, are priced accordingly. 

“Retailers have begun differentiating the supply chain,” Pike explains. “They have this balancing act of appeasing their consumers, as well as their suppliers.”

The new generation

Bridgett Wasser, director of meat science and supply chain outreach at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, stresses again how far removed the modern consumer is from the farm in comparison to previous generations of consumers. 

“Sustainability is more important to these new consumers than it ever has been in past generations,” says Wasser. “Many consumers report changing their diets to fit the needs of sustainability.”  

They also report they are more willing to pay for these benefits than previous generations. 

“This is going to be very interesting when this new set of consumers becomes the majority of the market because they are so different than past consumers in that they are willing to pay for sustainability and unconventional production,” says Wasser. 

“This trend of really wanting to get to know the food system has the ability to help producers out in the future,” Wasser states.

This panel was featured at the National Cattleman’s Beef Association Cattleman’s College held in New Orleans, La. in late January 2019. 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Nashville, Tenn. – “The changing taste and preference of consumers and the conventional approach to beef production in the U.S. is being questioned,” said Dan Close, vice president of Food and Agricultural Research for Rabo AgriFinance at the 2014 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Conference. 

Close, who leads the Food and Agricultural Research Group of Rabo AgriFinance, discussed their report, titled “Ground Beef Nation,” on Feb. 6.

The report shows U.S. consumers are purchasing more ground beef than any other beef product. 

“The beef industry needs to align with what consumers want and what they are purchasing,” Close added. 

Consumer preference

“We are working with changing preferences and prices that cause many consumers to downgrade their beef purchases,” added Close.  

For the ground beef report, Close used research from the beef checkoff, as well as doing his own polling of U.S. retailers on what percentage of their total beef consumption was in some form of ground product.

“The conclusion from these polls was that a very consistent 60 to 62 percent of total beef consumption is ground beef,” stated Close. “It didn’t matter what stores were featuring or what ads were promoting, the number one selling item in each store weekly was a 93/7 blend of ground beef.” 

Close added, “The U.S. cattle industry continues to focus on a high quality, high grade muscle cut item. We are seeing a growing imbalance between what consumers want to buy and what the beef industry is producing.” 

“This is one of the issues the beef industry is going to have to address is if we are going to regain and restore market share. Over time, we need to look at beef products on a cut-by-cut basis and see where those price partings are starting to show up,” declared Close. 

Price disparity

Starting in the 1990s, the beef industry strived to produce a quality eating experience every time for its consumers. 

“When we look at the last 10 years, there’s easily been a 20 percent increase in the percentage of choice and prime carcasses in the grading mix,” said Close. “Today, if the issue was quality alone, we wouldn’t continue to see this erosion in per capita consumption.”

“When looking at the price disparity between the other protein sources and beef, the industry has issues, and we are pricing ourselves out of the market,” said Close.  

Overall beef demand is still very good, but he explained that all beef prices have escalated at a faster rate than choice beef prices, making it very compelling evidence that consumers have downgraded the items that they are purchasing everyday to meet their beef needs. 

“The transition has occurred where ground beef prices are rising at a faster rate than steaks,” said Close. “The shift in price relationship between steaks and ground beef is far from being resolved, and additional price narrowing between these two items will continue to occur.” 

Ground beef

The components of conventional ground beef include the trimmings from both domestic and imported lean cow and bull slaughters and 50 percent from fat trimmings. 

“Ground beef is not an inferior product, but it is made up of lower value components,” said Close. “Over the past five to six years, there’s been a very consistent pattern with the trimmings prices trading at a premium price.” 

He added, “There’s something dynamic changing here, and it needs to be evaluated. There is room to take more of our muscle cuts and grind them into ground beef products.”   

“Today, 75 percent of consumers have no idea what they are going to have for dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon,” stated Close. “When looking at food items that are useable in a 30 to 45 minute window, the majority of options call for ground beef or a ground meat item of some kind.” 

“Ground beef is going to be a key driver in the future beef market,” added Close. 

Cooking skills

Close also pointed out the decline of cooking skills of the millennial generation. 

“Their limited cooking skill forces them to only a handful of items that they are comfortable with cooking,” said Close. “That, too, is going to be a driver in this train going forth.” 

Close stated that the bottom-line for the beef industry is that domestic and international markets of conventional beef sources and lean trimmings are going to be limited. Ground beef is going to have to come from the fed beef supply. 

“There’s clearly a need for the top end of beef products, but there is also an increased need for lower grade products of ground beef,” stated Close. 

“We need to start targeting specific animals to be used primarily for ground beef and meet that demand,” said Close. “These animals will be finished at a lighter weight, but the rib and loin area can still be harvested for select to low choice products, and the remainder of the carcass can be used for ground beef.” 

Madeline Robinson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


SIDEBAR:
Global beef demand

At the second half of 2013, a radical decline in the number of slaughter cows was seen. There are expectations that these numbers will continue to decline in 2014 and very likely into 2015, creating a shortage of supply of conventional domestic lean beef in the next couple of years. 

Australia has seen the largest amount of slaughter animals in the past 34 years, due to the severe drought that has occurred. This high slaughter rate has allowed them to start exporting more beef to China, and this past year, their exports were up 635 percent. 

“The original amount exported to China was a very small root number, but a trade relationship and precedence have been established, and there is only room for it to grow stronger with time,” commented Dan Close, vice president of Food and Agricultural Research for Rabo AgriFinance.

Experts are concerned that, with the increased amount of beef to China from Australia, the amount of beef that Australia can send to the U.S. might be limited, which could cause the beef market to become more expensive. 

“The world dynamics are radically changing, and consumer tastes and preference have clearly changed to a ground beef diet,” said Close.

 

 

Lyon, France – On Oct. 26, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report classifying red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans, based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.”

Wyoming Beef Council Executive Director Ann Wittmann comments, “The scientific evidence used is inadequate to reach consensus on cancer risk.”

“It is unrealistic to isolate a single food as a cause of cancer when we take into account the many different foods people eat, as well as whether they live a healthy lifestyle and if they are exposed to any other environmental factors,” she adds.

Preparing a report

When tasked by the World Health Organization to look at the carcinogenicity of red meat and processed meat, a working group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened in Lyon, France to deliberate the issue.

In developing their report, the working group looked at more than 800 studies analyzing at the association of consumption of red and processed meat with the incidence of cancer.

Facts About Beef, an organization devoted to debunking myths about beef, noted that, after seven days of deliberation, IARC did not reach a consensus of the 22 experts. They further added that IARC “proudly highlighted they strive for and typically achieve” consensus.

“In this case, they had to settle for ‘majority’ agreement,” said Facts About Beef in a news release.

Inside the report

IARC’s report notes that red meat be classified as a Group 2A carcinogen, or possibly carcinogenic to humans, and processed meat was classified as Group 1, or carcinogenic to humans. Limited evidence was the standard for classifying red meat, and sufficient evidence was the basis of the decision on processed meat.

“The consumption of meat varies greatly between countries, with from a few percent up to 100 percent of people eating red meat, depending on the country, and somewhat lower proportions eating processed meat,” IARC says. “The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.”

Red meat includes all types of mammalian muscle meat, including beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat. Processed meat is meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance the flavor or improve preservation.

Beef perspective

In preparing for the hearing on carcinogenicity of meat, Wittmann says the beef checkoff submitted six sets of comments based on scientific studies to be included in the review process. In addition, Shalene McNeill, head of Human Nutrition Research for the checkoff, was an observer in the process.

McNeill says, “Billions of dollars have been spent on studies all over the world, and no single food has ever been proven to cause or cure cancer. The opinion by the IARC committee to list red meat as a probable carcinogen does not change that fact. The available scientific evidence simply does not support a causal relationship between red or processed meat and any type of cancer.”

Wyo impacts

In anticipation of the report's release, the Wyoming Beef Council formed a strategy to neutralize negative statements about beef.

“We knew we couldn’t influence the paper, so we got out in front and made a strategy,” Wittmann comments, noting that the beef checkoff began working far in advance to defend against the report. “This is a great example of our checkoff dollars at work.”

Wittmann further notes that no impact has been seen from the report in Wyoming to this point.

“I don’t believe this will have an impact,” she explains. “We’ve been watching the media very closely. We knew the report was going to be negative, and we assumed we couldn’t turn it positive, so our goal is for it to be neutral – and that is what we’ve seen.”

Beef conversations

In Wyoming, Wittmann notes that the media has responded favorably to releases, statements and availability for comment on the IARC report.

The Wyoming Beef Council has also been working diligently to invigorate lively conversation related to beef over the past several years while also remaining attentive to the issues and responding as new topics come forward.

“We have been talking about the nutritional value of beef through our social media channels,” Wittmann explains. “We have had really good conversation and engagement on Pinterest and Facebook about the benefits of beef, the taste of beef and giving the consumer permission to love beef and include it in their diet.”

Positive impacts

Wittmann adds that the efforts of the Wyoming Beef Council have netted positive impacts, particularly over the past year.

“Our website traffic over the past year has increased 350 percent,” Wittmann emphasizes. “We are very impressed with that.”

Their focus on the image of a rancher who also consumes the product they produce has helped to drive their website traffic.

“We are focusing on the cowboy and the rancher’s way of life while peppering in messages about nutrition, fun recipes and vibrant, healthy living,” she says. “It seems to be really working for us.”

Checkoff efforts

In the wake of the release of the IARC report, Wittmann emphasizes, “Producers should realize that the beef checkoff has spent millions of dollars in research and decades of time researching our product so we have the facts to counter some of these messages and help consumers not get caught up in the study of the day.”

“This is our checkoff dollars at work,” she says. “We are paving the way for consumers to love our product and help producers make a living.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In the short week between Christmas and New Year’s, retailers looked to replenish their empty meat cases after holiday sales, said the Daily Livestock Report (DLR) on Jan. 2.

“Gone are the rib roasts, turkeys and hams, and we should see improved demand for beef end cuts, ground beef, pork loins and pork picnics/butts,” DLR continued. “Beef and pork retail feature activity was not as strong as in previous years at the end of 2017, and retail features are normally not that great at the start of the year.”

An additional complicating factor in the picture is the extreme cold weather that much of the country experienced at the turn of the year.

“It is uncertain at this time how the extreme cold impacting some of the country will affect consumer eating patterns,” DLR said. “Anecdotal evidence would suggest that retail business should receive a boost, but this will be offset by weaker sales at foodservice.”

At the same time, a Jan. 3 report from DLR noted consumer confidence in the U.S. continued to trend higher during the last six years.

“Consumer confidence is closely correlated with economic growth, and relatively strong numbers bode well for red meat demand,” DLR said, noting that simultaneous economic growth and consumer confidence were key to the red meat industry in 2017.

Worldwide consumer confidence for 2018 is also likely to remain over the normalized 100 index value, including confidence in the U.S. China’s consumer confidence is expected to be robust, as well, but 2017’s strong upward trajectory is not expected into the new year.

Consumer demand also held up in 2017.

Currently, supplies of beef available to the U.S. consumer are projected to be up to 56.8 pounds per person, which is an increase from 54.3 pounds on a retail weight adjusted basis.

“The stoic performance of beef demand comes as retail sales in the food sector grew at the slowest pace since The Great Recession of 2008-09,” reported DLR on Jan. 4. “Grocery store sales in November were up 3.4 percent from a year earlier, but the year will probably be no better than up 1.5 percent because of anemic growth in the first two months of the year and in June and July.”

Trends in food service are cause for additional concern, DLR said, noting that sales growth in November was only up 2.5 percent from a year ago, following 1.5 percent growth in October.

“For 2017, food services and drinking place sales growth is on a path to be up only 2.3 percent from last year, which compares with an eight percent gain from 2015 and six percent increase in 2016,” DLR continued.

Retail trade and food service sales across the economy increased 6.4 percent from a year prior in November, which was the best year-over-year gain for any month in 2017.

“Consumer spending has been rock-solid during the past year relative to the forces that are usually assumed to drive consumer behavior,” DLR added.

Wage and salary growth and improved disposable income levels are encouraging for the meat industry, as the trend could translate into favorable retail sales tendencies.

“Food sector sales as a percent of the total retail trade have been declining throughout this year, with the downtrend accelerating during the last quarter of the year,” DLR concluded. “In light of this trend, the performance of beef demand was impressive.”

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from several reports issued by the Daily Livestock Report. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Denver, Colo. – Consumers are searching for a product that provides the same positive attributes consistently, and Colorado State University Animal Science Professor Daryl Tatum and JBS meat scientist Derek Vote say that the importance of quality and consistency of beef products is becoming more critical.
    “It dates back to the early 1990s and the first ever quality audit,” explains Tatum. “The interests of the audit were to improve quality and consistency with beef.”
    Tatum adds that the first audit revealed beef products were too fat, too tough and too inconsistent to compete effectively in markets. Since 1991, quality audits are done every five years to analyze industry trends, the current status of beef products and steps to improve the beef products.
From the beginning
    After the initial quality audit of the cattle industry, a series of goals were identified to improve beef products. According to Tatum, the results and goals of the 2010 audit are very similar.
    “There are still problems with fat, inconsistency, tenderness, marbling and other quality issues,” he says, mentioning other goals include improving the supply of live cattle and delivering the product attributes that meet consumer needs and expectations.
    Tatum also mentions there is a strong push in the industry to increase marbling, control weight and size, and decrease variability in beef products.
Technology improves
consistency
    Technology can be utilized to ensure quality and consistency in beef products, and Tatum emphasizes the use of instrument grading to improve consistency.
    By 2005, companies were beginning to utilize instrument-based grading, but he notes that these grades were interfacing ineffectively with USDA grades.
    “Companies were using it to maintain records on where they were going,” explains Tatum, “but it wasn’t really until 2009 that the USDA began implementing instrument grading.”
    Other issues posed by instrument grading include human errors, as well as regional differences in quality grade.
    “The option of camera-based grades increases consistency,” explains Tatum. “Camera-based grades do a pretty good job.”
    In a look at the consistency within each grade, one study observed 99 percent consistency within Prime cuts, 62 percent in Low Choice and only 29 percent consistency in Select, and Tatum mentions that the industry needs to improve both quality and consistency in the lower grades.
    Of the inconsistency of Select beef, Tatum says, “Tenderness accounted for about 80 percent of variability.”
    “I think the industry can do a lot of things to try to improve the marketability, consistency and quality of beef,” he adds.     
A look at marbling and
variability
    “We have seen quality grades increase from the mid-‘50s,” Tatum says. “We’ve seen some major shifts in the way beef is marketed, as well.”
    He specifically notes a shift away from Select beef in the retail sector in favor of Choice, and when Americans began to dine more in the home, more Choice was made available on retail shelves.
    “What we have seen recently is a huge increase in the Choice-Select spread,” Tatum adds.
    He also comments that stabilization of yield grades has been observed since the 2000s, but the industry has failed to control weight in cattle.
    “Weight is such a huge economic driver that I don’t see that 30-year trend changing very much,” says Tatum. “Projections are that it probably won’t decrease, but it might not increase at the same rate it has been.”
    While one of the goals of the cattle industry is to decrease variability, Tatum mentions that controlling variability has its limits.
    “Anytime you deal with a biological system where we have environmental effects and practices, we will have variation,” he says. “We are producing in a lot of different environments across the country, so we have to live with a certain amount of variation.”
Consumer demands
    With climbing beef prices, Vote says the industry is working hard to carve out smaller price segments to meet consumer demands.
    “We need to hit those price points and keep beef on the plate instead of some other protein,” explains Vote, noting that programs provide products to consumers at a variety of price levels.
    He also adds that, with an emphasis on characterizing and measuring product quality and consistency, “The customer has a better idea of what they are getting and a better idea of what to go back to, if it is something they are happy with.”
    “Are we maintaining quality and consistency? We are doing a pretty good job in certain areas, and there are places we still need to work and improve,” Tatum comments. “The concept of continuous improvement is the mentality of the industry and where we should be right now.”
    Vote and Tatum addressed concerns of quality and consistency at the International Livestock Congress held on Jan. 10 in Denver, Colo. Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..