For consumers looking to get out of the daily grind, there are a growing number of non-commodity ground beef and hamburger products that whet their appetite for the perennially popular burger and meet their interest in various product attributes and benefits.
It wasn’t that long ago that the retail meat case included only a few case-ready fresh beef patties and branded ground beef and hamburger packages. Today, the retail fresh and frozen meat case – as well as online stores – include a growing variety of formed patties and ground beef packages that are a far cry from the white Styrofoam tray with plastic overwrap.
A host of marketplace trends are driving the availability of non-commodity ground beef and hamburger patties. Interest in natural and organic beef, for example, has continued to rise. According to its most recent “Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report,” market research firm Technomic found that three-fourths of consumers are more willing to buy food products described as preservative-free, hormone-free or antibiotic-free.
Grass-fed beef, specifically, is becoming more in demand. According to Allen Williams, a Mississippi-based consultant of branded-meat programs and a partner in Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Joyce Farms, the demand for grass-fed beef has grown about 25 percent a year for the last 10 years, and grass-fed beef will comprise upwards of 40 percent of the total beef market within the next decade. At the same time, consumers have also embraced gourmet and artisan food products, a movement that has impacted everything from bread to beer to, yes, beef.
A more knowledgeable consumer base has spurred hamburger patties and ground beef products that are produced, packaged and marketed with information on how they were made – and increasingly, where and by whom. That too, ties into the clamor for quality as well as the underlying interest in food wholesomeness and safety.
“We’ve been a custom processor for 70 years and have a retail market, so we have a finger on what’s going on. People today want to be connected to where their food is coming from,” reports Laura Sytsma, co-owner of HarvestBox, a co-op-style, boutique mail order business that is part of Byron Center Meats in Byron Center, Michigan.
Lenny Lebovich, founder and CEO of Chicago-based grass-fed beef company PRE Brands, LLC, agrees. “I think consumers are asking more questions about everything they put in their bodies, including as it relates to animal proteins,” he says.
Such concurrent trends are shaping the present and future of the ground beef and hamburger patty market, which is a sizable one. In the summertime alone, ground beef accounts for just over half (51 percent) of retail beef sales, according to data from the Beef Checkoff. When asked what they love about ground beef, consumers polled in a Beef Checkoff survey shared comments including “My family loves ground beef meals,” “Hamburgers are comfort food” and the simple but succinct “I love hamburgers.”
Lebovich agrees with those sentiments. “Personally, I’m a big fan of burgers. Every day is a good day for a burger,” he declares.
Feeding the Craving
One area of growth within the non-commodity ground beef and hamburger category is in products from cattle that graze on grasslands.
PRE Brands is one company that offers 100 percent grass-fed beef, sourced from countries and regions with healthy, nutrient-dense grass. PRE also touts the fact that its beef is produced from animals that are not on feedlots, are cared for with stringent animal welfare and health standards, and are not treated with added antibiotics or hormones.
In addition to steaks, PRE offers three ground beef chub packages and soon will delve into the patty business. “We’re introducing patties for grilling season, including 85- and 95-percent lean patties,” Lebovich reports. “There are consumers who simply want convenience, and this is a good fit.” To support the new patties, PRE is rolling out new promotions for grilling season and highlighting its 100 percent transparent packaging.
Some of the non-commodity grass-fed ground beef and patties may not be traditional in comparison to the current standard of ground beef sold at retail and foodservice, but are traditional in the sense that they harken back to earlier eras of buying directly from producers. That’s true for HarvestBox, which sells 1-lb. packages of ground beef and 1-lb. packages of premade patties in its meat bundles sourced from the company’s farmer partner, Seven Sons Family Farms. “Through Harvest Box, we are working with specific handpicked farms to connect people to the farm. Seven Sons Family Farms is farm run by a husband and wife, their seven sons and some of their families. Customers see real pictures of their animals and products and can email directly to ask the farmer a question,” Sytsma explains, adding that the upcoming grilling season will include an emphasis on the burger meat and patties. “The next campaign is about stocking your fridge for grilling season.”
Other brands of 100 percent grass-fed ground beef and patties provide more choices for retail and online consumers. Examples include offerings from Chicago-based Tallgrass Beef, La Farge, Wisconsin-based Organic Prairie and Vina, California-based Panorama Grass-Fed Meats, among others.
There are other examples of non-commodity ground beef and patties that are unique because of their composition and the feeding practices. From a composition standpoint, Bronx, New York-based Gold & Masters, offers Skinny Burgers (originally known as Cluck ‘n Moo burgers), made from a mix of gluten-free, antibiotic-free and hormone free humanely raised chicken and grass-fed beef. According to to Gold & Masters, Skinny Burgers have 40 percent less fat, 25 percent fewer calories and 33 percent less saturated fat than grass-fed beef burgers. In addition to pre-formed burger patties, Gold & Masters also offers consumers a Skinny Ground product.
From a cattle-feeding standpoint, a unique type of ground beef/burger product comes from Dwight, Kansas-based Oaties Beef, LLC, which, as its name suggests, offers oat-fed beef. Its portfolio includes 1-lb. packages of ground beef and packages of 1/3-lb. and 1/4-lb. patties in 75-, 85- and 95-percent lean varieties.
Dallas Picolet came up with the idea for oat-fed beef after his son was diagnosed as allergic to red meat in 2006. “At that time, they were saying to eat a bowl of oatmeal a day as a way to lower cholesterol. I said, ‘Well, I’ll try feeding the cattle oats’, and in 2007, I had the product tested at Kansas State Univ. Sure enough, it was lower in cholesterol than grass- or grain-fed beef – even lower than bison,” he recalls, adding that sales continue to climb, both online and in the Kansas stores where the beef is sold in a vacuum-style package.
Beyond ways that the animal has been fed, there are other emerging product profiles for ground beef and burgers. Arkansas City, Kansas-based Creekstone Farms for example, recently introduced new packages of Non-GMO Project verified ground beef, available online and in some select stores, in addition to foodservice operations. Mindful Meats, a West Coast producer in Point Reyes Station, California, is another company that offers Non-GMO Project verified ground beef.
To appeal to discerning consumers looking for a gourmet eating experience, Creekstone Farms also has come out with a new USDA Prime premium ground beef ground from whole muscle trim with no fillers or added ingredients. Online companies specializing in upscale premium products also market their artisan/gourmet burgers, such as premium ground beef patties from Home Bistro Inc. and gourmet burgers from Omaha Steaks, among others.
HarvestBox, too, appeals to the quality-minded consumer with its Wagyu ground beef and ground beef patties. “Repeat consumers have fun with the HarvestBox – they will try grass-fed and next try Wagyu,” Sytsma reports.
Finally, as more consumers light up their grills for grilling season, there are innovations and additions in the freezer as well. BUBBA Burger, Jacksonville, Florida, has added natural and grass-fed burgers to its lineup. Creekstone Farms, for its part, offers Natural Black Angus patties that are 100 percent vegetarian fed and raised and grazed in the US and packaged in a resealable bag inside a 2-lb. box.