CENTENNIAL, COLO. — The July 2009 Consumer Beef Index showed positive upswings in consumers' perception on beef. It was conducted on behalf of the Beef Checkoff as a tool used to provide a measure of change in consumer demand for beef.

The study shows the heavy beef consumer is typically also a heavy chicken consumer. Over the years, chicken continues to score high in the nutrition category, but beef is gaining ground. Beef also continues to maintain its lead on taste and crave-ability where it tops chicken.

These numbers will help the Beef Checkoff tailor programs to ultimately help drive demand. "All checkoff programs have to respond long-term with what’s gaining in importance, all the while, being able to respond short-term," said John Lundeen, executive director of market research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program. "People’s desires from food are actually pretty constant."

Twenty years ago, there were about five factors of importance: taste, convenience, nutrition, variety and price, he added. "Now the one that’s possibly coming onto the radar is a broader definition of food around social causes — the environment, sustainability and animal welfare," he continued. "Consumer expectations have changed, and what we’re seeing is that consumer wants food that delivers on all those attributes. So the weighting of the factors changes, and when something stands out as being more important, we have to react to it."

Consumers have reacted to the changes in checkoff communications and are now starting to get the message about the nutrient-richness of beef and its positive nutritional aspects, the Index numbers show. In general, consumers are starting to ascribe a general positive nutritional halo to beef. They’re aware of the lean cuts that are available and safety nudged upwards. The numbers tell a very positive story for producers. Thirty percent of "beef loyalists" put beef on par with chicken as far as nutritional value. That is a victory for beef, industry representatives claim.

The study surveys more than 1,000 consumers ages 13-65 to track changes in consumer attitudes, and help checkoff planners better understand the market and how to optimize national communication strategies.

"In early 2007, we actually ran a survey and it contained about 80 different variables, which we could look at and say, ‘This measurement has an impact on predicting an increase in demand.’ So out of that list of variables, we narrowed it down to a smaller list of about 35 demand drivers and have been adjusting that list over time," Mr. Lundeen said. "An example is the impact of sustainability on the consumer’s decision – that was just added to the index recently. But there are two overall functions embodied in the tool: one is to kind of shine a spotlight on what’s important to the consumer and the second one is to [ask] are we being effective with our communications?"