C.A.B. demand outstrips demand for Choice

by Bryan Salvage
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WOOSTER, OHIO — Sales of luxury items are typically the first to decrease when the economy falters. However, consumer demand for the higher-quality and pricier Certified Angus Beef (C.A.B.) brand apparently held up better than that for U.S.D.A. Choice or lower-grade beef, according to Certified Angus Beef LLC.

Since fall of 2008, many observers speculated demand for premium brands would give way to lower-quality alternatives. Industry analysts Julian Leopold and Daniel Bluntzer, of Leopold Foods and Frontier Risk Management, respectively, set out to explore the short- and long-term value and demand dynamics of the C.A.B. brand versus Choice beef that would quantify the branding value of C.A.B.

Both men looked at pricing and volume data based on sales of the 15 highest-volume C.A.B. cuts, not including ground chuck and round, and accounting for nearly 75% of total brand sales. U.S.D.A.’s "National Weekly Boxed Beef Report" provided data on Choice, while C.A.B. pricing came from the Urner-Barry Yellow Sheet and volume from brand records.

In this case, results were strongly supportive of premium brand value, according to C.A.B. LLC. They showed from 2005 to 2008, demand for the C.A.B. brand brought in $367 million dollars more at the wholesale level than it would have if sold as Choice product. Expressed as a percentage, the combination of C.A.B. price and volume showed a 26.9% advantage over Choice grade beef in those four years.

The C.A.B. advantage over Choice more than doubled, to 56.1% when the sales and pricing data include the first half of 2009 versus 2005, on a 22.4% increase in volume.

"The findings clearly show that C.A.B. pricing, volume and revenues held up far better during tough economic times, compared to U.S.D.A. Choice," Mr. Leopold said.

Although C.A.B. pricing declined 10.3% for the first half of 2009 versus a year earlier, Choice pricing fell harder, by 12.3%, C.A.B. LLC relayed. In addition, C.A.B. sales volume rose 4.6% in that time period, on top of a 4.5% increase the previous year.

Even with lower prices, the market placed an extra $56.7 million value on these 15 representative C.A.B. products, compared to their value if sold as generic Choice, a 21.1% increase from the same period a year earlier.

"With overall revenues falling in the beef industry, this is precisely what we would hope to see in an established premium brand," he said.

Many observers from academia to producers tend to worry about a narrower Choice/Select spread, but Mr. Leopold said that misses the point by not including volume. "During a time of sluggish beef demand, total revenues for Choice beef still managed to increase 5.6% from 2005 to 2009 — but C.A.B. licensees have been able to garner 8.9% more by selling as a premium brand," he added. "It is fair to say that the consumer continued to support the C.A.B. brand during the recession, paying more for it, perhaps as a reward for a special meal at home."

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