CHICAGO – Meat and poultry dishes still headline restaurant menus, but foodservice operators must ensure that rising prices for proteins don’t push diners to seek out replacements, according to Technomic, Inc., a leading Chicago-based market research firm.

“Rising prices for beef—and to a lesser degree, pork—will have direct implications for operators and suppliers through 2013,” said Darren Tristano, vice president of Technomic. “It’s vital for suppliers and operators to work together in keeping meat products cost-effective. Opportunities are emerging to explore different cuts of meat and develop innovative applications that cross-utilize beef and pork across the menu.”

In its latest report Center of the Plate: Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report, Technomic updates some of its findings about consumer behaviors, preferences and attitudes about beef and pork dining options. For example:

• Consumers say that, on average, four out of every five meals they eat contain some type of meat, such as beef or pork; a greater proportion of older than younger consumers’ meals contain meat.

• Consumers say that when presented with a choice of protein for a menu offering, they order the item with beef or steak about one out of three times (33 percent). For nearly as many occasions (29 percent), consumers order these items with chicken; about a tenth of the time they order menu items with fish or other seafood (12 percent) or pork (9 percent).

• Roughly three out of five consumers say they enjoy pork served with sweet/honey (65 percent), hickory (64 percent) and smoky (58 percent) barbecue sauces, glazes and marinades. Additionally, consumer preferences for sweet, tangy and chipotle-flavored barbecue sauces are on the rise.

Technomic also found that 92 percent of consumers eat beef at least once a week, and 64 percent of consumers eat pork at least once a week. In a survey of full-service restaurants, Technomic found that the top preparation method for beef and pork was grilling, followed by aging and roasting for beef and barbecuing and smoking for pork.