Consumers demand high-quality, branded beef

by Bryan Salvage
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CANYON, TEXAS — Beef is the consumers’ protein of choice, according to research released earlier this year from West Texas A&M University. Approximately half of consumers surveyed put beef as their No. 1 protein choice, and 97% said they ate beef between one and 12 times a week.

Titled "Consumers’ perceptions and preferences of meat and the meat industry," the study is the result of doctoral research conducted by Lindsay Chichester, Canyon, Texas, who looked at the range of popular opinion on meat.

"We were trying to gauge consumer preferences, what their concerns were, and what they’re not concerned with," Ms. Chichester said.

Sixty-five percent of consumers preferred some type of branded beef. Among them, the largest breakout group at 28% preferred their steaks branded as Angus beef. Ty Lawrence, Ms. Chichester’s academic advisor and animal scientist, said this preference proves the power of marketing. "A lot of that is obviously going to tie back to the recognition of a brand like Certified Angus Beef [C.A.B.]," he added.

In terms of branding, the name "Angus" outweighed any other branding term, including Prime, tender, organic and grass-fed in consumers’ perceptions, but branding with words is not enough. Consumers are looking for quality behind those terms, Mr. Lawrence pointed out.

"The data also indicated customers say they want a higher-quality cut of meat," Mr. Lawrence said.

Forty-nine percent selected modest or moderate marbling — the same level required for Certified Angus Beef brand acceptance — when asked to visually identify the desirable amount of marbling in a steak,

"C.A.B.’s marbling criteria overall was the largest sector of what consumers indicated they wanted — average Choice or better," Ms. Chichester said. Another 20% of the population indicated a desire for slightly abundant or moderately abundant marbling, fitting into the Prime and C.A.B. Prime category.

Mr. Lawrence said these results outline a clear challenge to cattle producers. "Twenty percent preferred Prime-level marbling, while the beef population is at 2.5% Prime, maybe 3% on a good day," he added. "So we’re 17% short of the Prime population our consumers say they want."

Almost 70% of respondents indicated they preferred upper Choice or higher, he said. "It’s phenomenal what consumers say they would prefer in comparison to what we actually have to offer them," he added.

Eighty-three percent of consumers make those purchases at a supermarket, where competition rules the meat case. They are most concerned with price, color of the meat, the amount of edible product and marbling.

According to results, 56% of consumers were willing to pay a premium for all-natural products like C.A.B. brand Natural. However, consumers were unsure of the true meaning behind a "natural" label, Ms. Chichester pointed out.

There is also a need to correct misperceptions, the survey revealed. One-third of consumers thought eating meat from animals treated with antibiotics would make them "resistant to antibiotics." Another 57% said they were concerned that animal mistreatment is widespread in the industry.

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